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Frostbite Children's Wisconsin burn center

Don’t let frostbite burn you

In late 2022, during Wisconsin’s bitter cold snap, 13-year-old Breontae Tyler worried about his cat, Molly, who had gone missing from his home. He put on his brand-new winter coat and went outside to search for her. He walked around outside for 15-20 minutes before giving up and coming back inside. “Right away, I noticed something was wrong,” said his mom, Lakeesha. Although Breontae wore a coat that day, like many teens, he didn’t bother to put on a hat and gloves. 

Once back in the house, his hands were really swollen and bright red. Lakeesha was worried, so she called 9-1-1. When the paramedics arrived, they checked Breontae’s vital signs. They wrapped up his hands and instructed his family to keep an eye on them. The next day, when Breontae and Lakeesha pulled the bandages off to check his hands, Lakeesha knew right away that the situation was far more serious than they originally had thought.

The swelling had gotten worse, and one of his fingers had a blister the size of a golf ball on it that was very painful. Lakeesha called 9-1-1 again, and this time, Breontae was transported to Children’s Wisconsin, where he was seen in the Emergency Department and then transferred to the Children’s Wisconsin Burn Program for care.

“Frostbite has a cute name, and many people don’t take it seriously, but it can be a very serious injury that can damage your skin and parts of your body, such as fingers and toes,” said Barb Riordan, BSN, RN, nurse clinician, Children’s Wisconsin Burn Program. “We see kids every year who have frostbite injuries. In Breontae’s case, luckily, he and his mom did all of the right things — including recognizing that it was serious and seeking treatment right away.”

The Children’s Wisconsin Burn Program is part of our Level I Trauma Center care and specializes in the treatment of all types of burns in children using the latest innovative therapies. Burns can be very serious, which is why the team includes pain specialists, advanced practice care specialists, physical therapists and more to ease pain, reduce scarring and speed the healing process.

In the Burn Program, Barb gave Breontae some special ointment and carefully wrapped his hands. She sent him home with care instructions, bandages and tape. She called the family several times to check in on Breontae’s progress.

“Breontae’s wounds were really big and ugly,” said Lakeesha. “It was difficult because it was swollen and really painful. He did not want to go to school.”

Breontae returned for a follow-up appointment a week later to make sure his burns were healing well. All told, it took a full two weeks for his frostbitten hands to heal.

“My advice to other parents is to make sure your kids understand how serious frostbite can be and to insist they wear a coat, hat and gloves before going out in the cold,” said Lakeesha. “Things can get serious very quickly.”

How to prevent frostbite

In addition to limiting time outside during very cold weather, follow these tips:

  • Dress in layers.

  • Cover the face, head, nose and ears at all times.

  • Wear mittens instead of gloves. Mittens keep the fingers together, which helps them warm each other.

  • Wear two pairs of socks, with the outer pair being wool. This provides a layer of insulation.

What to do if your child gets frostbite

If frostbite occurs, take proper care to prevent further damage to the skin and tissues.


  • Get out of the cold. Once indoors, remove all wet clothing.

  • Gradually warm the frostbitten areas. Put the affected area in warm — not hot — water for about 30 minutes. The temperature of the water should be about 97-106 degrees Fahrenheit, or 36-41 degrees Celsius.

  • Keep the affected area elevated to help decrease swelling.

  • Apply a dry dressing, such as gauze or cotton balls, between any affected fingers or toes to prevent them from rubbing together.

  • Seek medical help if you rewarm the areas and have persistent numbness, pain, skin discoloration or if blisters develop.

  • Avoid re-exposure to the cold, as frostbite can recur quickly.

  • Take a pain medicine, such as ibuprofen, to help with the discomfort.

  • If your child does appear to have frostbite, seek medical attention right away.


  • Use direct heat, such as a stove, lamp, fireplace or heating pad to rewarm frostbitten areas. These methods can cause a burn injury that you won’t feel when the skin is numb.

  • Rub the affected area, and never rub snow on frostbitten skin. The friction created by this can cause further damage.

  • Walk on frostbitten feet, as this can cause further damage to the tissues.

  • Rewarm the area if you will be exposed to the cold again.

Visit Children’s Wisconsin Safety Center for more winter safety tips