How To Avoid Frostbite When You Play Outside: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Jan 7, 2017

Hi!  I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician. I’m here today to give you health tips on two chilly topics: frostbite and frostnip.

The difference between frostbite and frostnip is like the difference between a dog bite and a dog nip. A bite hurts a lot and might leave a scar. A nip hurts, but it doesn’t usually cut the skin, and the pain goes away quickly.

Frostbite and frostnip can happen in the winter when you’re playing outside in the cold. It can happen on fingers, toes, ears and parts that stick out of your hat, like your nose and cheeks or chin.

Frostbite happens when the skin, and the tissues underneath the skin, actually freeze. Then, the skin turns white and numb and might be permanently damaged.

Frostnip is less serious; the skin gets cold and red and tingly, but it doesn’t actually freeze.

Frostbite is pretty rare in kids because they hardly ever spend lots of time outside in the freezing weather. But kids can get frostnip, and frostnip hurts. So let’s learn a little about what to do to keep warm in winter and how to protect yourself from being nipped by the cold.

First, always talk to your parents or teachers or the adults taking care of you before you go outside. Adults usually know the temperature and they can help you decide if it’s safe to go out to play when it’s really cold. Adults can also help you know what to wear, and keep an eye on you while you’re outside.  Adults know when it’s time to come in, so pay attention and follow their advice so you don’t get frostnip.

Second, when it’s cold out, always wear a coat, a hat, warm socks, mittens or gloves. You might even wear a scarf so you can cover your face and neck. Remember, frostnip mostly happens on fingers and toes and ears, so those have to be kept warm and dry when you’re outside.

Third, wear a coat with pockets. Maybe you’re one of those kids who gets hot when you play outside, even in winter. You might decide to take off your gloves for a little while, but you sure don’t want to lose them! If you have a coat with pockets, you can put your gloves in the pockets and you’ll know just where they are when you need them again.

Fourth, make sure you’ve had something to eat and drink before you go outside to play. Food and water help your body protect itself from the dangers of cold weather. It might sound funny, but food is the fuel your body needs to make heat to keep itself warm.

Fifth, when you start to get cold, go inside. Sometimes you won’t realize you’re cold because you’re having so much fun. Everybody is different. Some people can stay outside for hours without getting cold. Others get cold in just a few minutes. It’s important to know the signs:  if you start shivering or someone says your lips are blue or purple, you’re cold. When your hands or feet or ears feel cold and they’re tingly and red, you need to go inside right away.

Sixth, when you get inside, warm up slowly. Don’t put your cold hands or feet under hot water. They might sting and hurt if you warm them up too quickly. Instead, take off your cold clothes, put on warm, dry clothes, wrap up in a big blanket and have something hot to drink. The hot drink will warm you from the inside out, and the blanket will help you keep the heat in. If your feet or hands or ears are still cold, rub them gently until they warm up.

So to review, don’t be afraid of cold weather. There are so many great things to do outside in winter and it’s fun to get out and explore. Instead, be smart! Talk to an adult before you go out so you’ll know how long you can safely play outside. Bundle up, wear a coat with pockets so you don’t lose your gloves or hat, eat and drink before you go out, and come inside when you get cold. Then, take the time to warm up slowly.

If you do all that, you’ll avoid being nipped by the frosty weather of winter.

I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and those are my healthy tips for today. I hope you stay happy, healthy and warm all winter!

Dr. Starbuck and Bunny
Credit Laurie Childs

Jamison Starbuck, JD, ND, is a naturopathic family physician and the owner of One Doc Naturopathic Medicine, a family medicine clinic in Missoula, Montana.  Dr. Starbuck has been in private, primary care practice for over twenty-seven years.  She is a past president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

Dr. Starbuck did her undergraduate work at Middlebury College, in Middlebury, Vermont, majoring in history and art history.  She graduated from Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Oregon and from National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon.  Dr. Starbuck is a licensed naturopathic family physician and a licensed attorney member of the Montana State Bar.

Since 1995, Dr. Starbuck has written a monthly column for Bottom Line Health, a national newsletter/magazine. She is dedicated to the concept of physician as teacher and frequently offers public lectures and classes. Dr. Starbuck is a member of Missoula Kiwanis and serves on their Board as Treasurer.

In her spare time, Dr. Starbuck tends to her animals – a horse, dogs, chickens and a cat, her gardens and spends lots of time outdoors, celebrating life with nature in beautiful Montana.