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CLEVELAND -- It's cold, really cold, and expected to get a lot worse in the coming days. If you're not prepared, frostbite can be a very real risk.

In frigid temperatures like these, frostbite can begin to develop in 30 seconds on exposed or underprotected skin.

Cold weather is no stranger to Northeast Ohio, but when winter temperatures drop into the single digits or below, parents face special challenges in keeping their children warm and safe.

"Because children are smaller than adults, they lose body heat more quickly and will suffer cold-related injuries sooner than adults," says Kathryn Wesolowski, manager of the Injury Prevention Center at University Hospitals' Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital.

Children are most apt to get frostbite on cheeks, ears and noses. Parents should pay attention to the wind-chill factor as well as the temperature, since the wind-chill index is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the effects of wind and cold. Before going outdoors on a cold day, make sure you and your children have:

  • A hat that covers the ears.
  • A scarf or knit mask to cover the face and mouth.
  • Sleeves that are snug at the wrist.
  • Mittens, which keep hands warmer than gloves.
  • Water-resistant coat and boots.
  • Several layers of thick, loose-fitting clothing, which allow warm air to become trapped between the layers. This also allows for layers to be removed if your child becomes too warm.

In the event frostbite is suspected, Dr. Charles Emerman of MetroHealth Medical Center recommends:

  • Get the person to a warm place and remove any wet clothing.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, the person should not walk on frostbitten toes or feet.
  • Do not rewarm the skin until you can keep it warm. Warming and then re-exposing the frostbitten area to cold air can cause worse damage.
  • Gently warm the area in warm water (not hot) or with wet heat until the skin appears red and warm.
  • If no water is nearby, breathe on the area through cupped hands and hold it next to your body.
  • Do not use direct heat from heating pads, radiators or fires.
  • Do not rub or massage the skin or break blisters.
  • Seek medical attention.
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