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Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014

Frostbite can strike quickly in extreme cold

Friday, January 17, 2003

SIKESTON -- "Put your hood up, Kathy," Marge St. Mary reminded her granddaughter Thursday morning.

St. Mary and her three granddaughters were building a snowman in the front yard after the day's big snow. And as much fun as it is to play in the snow, it's just as important to keep warm in the process.

"We stay out for 30 minutes at the most," St. Mary said. "If the windchill factor is high, we stay out only 15 minutes or so. But today it's not that bad."

Like St. Mary, parents should be aware of their children playing outside for extended periods of time since kids are more susceptible to frostbite than adults.

Pediatrician David Lawrence advises parents should supervise and keep safety tips in mind during the cold weather.

"Children are small in size and their surface area is less so they cool down quicker than adults," Lawrence said. "They shouldn't be outside any longer than hour, and that's just if they're well-protected."

Frostbite -- literally frozen body tissue -- is characterized by white, waxy skin that feels numb and hard. It requires immediate medical attention. If conditions are bitterly cold with a high wind-chill factor, brief exposure of uncovered body parts such as ears may lead to frostbite.

Lawrence recommended wearing clothes that put extra protection on fingers, toes, ears and nose because they're the most likely body parts to suffer from frostbite.

"Children should wear nice, warm gloves, well insulated boots, and hats with ear flaps or ear muffs," Lawrence advised.

Layered clothing is also recommended, Lawrence said. Layers of light clothing trap air, yet provide ventilation, providing better protection than one heavy covering.

"With frostbite, you don't have to have extreme temperatures. Anything below freezing can someone frostbite" Lawrence noted.

Windchill factor is also important. It could be 25 degrees outside, but feel much colder especially with a breeze.

"If you're getting cold, then you should go in. You can always come back out later and finish your snowman or play," St. Mary reasoned.

The first symptom of frostbite is pain, Lawrence said. Parents should inform their children to immediately tell them parents if their ears, fingers or toes or face begin to hurt, he said.

"When pain is gone, numbness sets in, which means the blood supply is being cut off and tissues are dying. In the early stages of frostbite, or one or two hours after exposure, it is possible to save an injury. Otherwise, once the tissue is dead, a person may lose a finger, skin or whatever is injured," Lawrence explained.

If you suspect frostbite, Lawrence recommends seeking professional help. Get the child in warm clothing and get him or her to a hospital. If you can't get to a hospital right away, immerse frozen areas in warm, but not hot, water. Do not use direct heat such as from a heating pad. Don't rub frostbitten skin.

Rewarming will be accompanied by a burning sensation. Skin may blister and swell. Do not disturb the blusters. Cover skin with a sterile or clean covering. Also, if skin color changes from red to blue or darker, then emergency assistance is need, Lawrence said.

Initially, if there's no pain, then it's OK, Lawrence emphasized. If it's painful, it's time to come inside and warm up, he added.

"Once inside, soak your feet or hands in some lukewarm water. And then," St. Mary added, "Drink a big cup of hot cocoa."