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Nurse Advice: Frost Bite and Cold Exposure

03/02/12
Nurse Advice: Frost Bite and Cold Exposure

Now that we may be getting into the true Winter weather, I wanted to go over the symptoms of Cold Exposure and Frostbite.

Mild frostbite symptoms are cold, tingling, and painful skin.  True frostbite causes white, hard, completely numb skin; can be serious, and always requires medical attention after rewarming.  The most common sites are the toes, fingers, tip of the nose, outer ears, or cheeks. 

Frostbite occurs when the  nerves, blood vessels, and skin cells  become temporarily frozen.  The wind-chill temperature and presence of wet clothing determine how quickly it occurs. Because of this- removing wet clothing, wrapping in warm blankets and moving into a warm space is proper first aid for hypothermia.

For Frostbite; rewarm the frostbitten area rapidly with wet heat, move to a warm room. Place the frostbitten part in very warm water but not enough to burn . The bathtub or sink for about 30 minutes is often the quickest approach until pink flesh signals the return of circulation to the area.  For the face; apply warm wet washcloths to the frostbitten area and continue until a pink flush signals the return of circulation.

If your child is unconscious or difficult to awaken, has slurred speech or confused thinking, body temp less than 96 degrees, can’t stop shivering after rewarming or has SEVERE pain after rewarming and pain medicine- you need to call EMS 911.

If a mild frostbite; you rewarm the area as above, give warm fluids and ibuprofen.  DO NOT  apply snow to the area or massage or use a heat lamp, heating pad or electric heater as frostbitten skin cannot sense burning.

Dress your child in layers for cold weather. The first layer should be thermal underwear, and the outer needs to be waterproof. Layers should be loose, not tight.  Mittens are warmer than gloves.  Wear a hat, change wet gloves or socks quickly.  Teach your child to recognize the earliest warnings of frostbite and tell him that the tingling and numbness are our body reminders to go indoors even if they are having a blast outside!

Have a great Winter and fun in the snow.  Nurse Denise Del colle, phone advice RN/COPA

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