Q. What is frostbite, and what should I do if my kids experience it?
A. Frostbite is the freezing of tissue and, as with burns, there are levels of severity, says Dr. Dyan Hes, a Great Neck resident and medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics in Manhattan.
To avoid frostbite, make sure the face and extremities -- fingers, toes, ears -- are covered as these are most vulnerable. Tell kids to be aware of a prickling feeling, numbness and pale or red skin. Children may ignore warning signs if they are having fun; their gloves get wet, then they stop feeling their fingers, but they don't want to come inside, Hes says. So check in with them regularly.
Most of the time when parents fear frostbite, it's a version called frostnip, Hes says. The site may be red. Gently warm the injured areas under warm water. Parents should set the water temperature because numb fingers, for instance, can't judge what's too hot, Hes says.
Don't rub or massage the area. "It's a natural tendency to rub it to warm it, or to try to warm it quickly," Hes says. But this could worsen the damage and inflammation. Use your breath as an additional heat source. Kids may experience mild pain as sensation returns. Also have the child drink warm fluids, Hes says.
If the skin is white, waxy and hard, the frostbite injury is more severe. In that case, call your doctor or an ambulance, Hes advises.