Three frequently asked questions on using ice packs on children

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Three frequently asked questions on using ice packs on children

Parents may get a little cautious when applying home remedies on their children, especially those below school age — and they should be. A child’s skin is quite sensitive and needs extra care than adults’. One of the things that we usually get asked is when and how to use ice packs on children. Ice packs are generally used to relieve pain caused by bruising, muscle strains and spasms, sprains and insect stings. You can also use ice packs when your baby gets a vaccination shot. But there are other important facts about ice packs and cold therapy in general that we need to know before we apply them on our children. In this article, we answer important questions about safe treatment for children in detail, based on some facts and insights from the medical field. We also list correct remedies in situations where ice packs are inapplicable. 

For how long can a child use an ice pack?  

Ice or cold packs should be applied to the injured or sore area at least three times a day for as long as your child is experiencing pain, swelling and inflammation. For the first 72 hours, ice for 10 minutes, once every hour. After that, use ice for 15 to 20 minutes for three times a day: in the morning, in the late afternoon or after school and about an half an hour before bedtime. 

If you don’t have an ice or cold pack, you can use crushed ice, ice cubes or frozen peas. Put the ice or peas in a plastic bag and wrap it in a damp towel. It is important to keep a cloth between your child’s skin and the ice pack as direct skin contact with ice can irritate or burn. Press firmly against all the curves of the affected area. Do not apply ice for longer than 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and do let your child fall asleep with the ice on their skin.

Be careful when using cold packs around the eye as it can be too heavy and bulky for use and it may cause a chemical burn to the eye if a pack leaks.

When to use an ice pack and when to seek help? 

Before treating your child’s injury, you should first check for the symptoms to know whether you need to rush your child to the hospital or not. Also, know that bumps are not immediate indications of a serious injury — they are simply a collection of fluid that gathers to protect the body when an injury occurs.  You can soothe the bump if your child:

  • Is not in too much pain (crying for a period after the injury is OK, but if you’re worried, seek medical advice).
  • Has normal eyes (pupils are not dilated or eyes are not crossed).
  • Isn’t vomiting more than once.
  • Isn’t displaying any signs of a concussion.

If your child is not displaying any other symptoms, you can provide immediate relief to the bump by using cold therapy. You can apply an ice pack for 15-20 minutes at a time. Make sure that you put a cloth or a towel between the ice pack and the skin to prevent ice burn. If the ice pack is too cold for your child, use a cool, wrung-out wet cloth instead. 

Make sure to let your child rest after applying the ice. Apply the ice pack an additional three times more over the next 24 hours with at least 30 minutes rest in between sessions.

When to seek medical advice

You may need to consult your doctor if you notice that your child is displaying any of the symptoms below over the next 24-48 hours:                      

  • Your child has a fever.
  • You can see signs of infection around the bruise, such as pus or redness.
  • Bruises are appearing without any injuries.
  • Your child feels extreme pressure around the bruise

While a bump on the head isn’t necessarily serious, you may need to watch out for any signs of a concussion, which will typically appear quite quickly, or within 24 hours, after the injury. Symptoms of a concussion include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Memory loss
  • Severe headaches
  • Lack of balance
  • Irritability or crankiness
  • Clear fluid oozing from ears and nose
  • Seizures
  • Crossed or rolling eyes
  • Shallow breathing

If your child shows any of the symptoms above, seek immediate medical attention or bring them right away to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.

Should you use ice packs on infants with high fevers?

It is not recommended to use ice packs when treating your child for fever. Fever in infants is usually a sign of a viral infection. Bacterial infection and vaccination can also cause fevers, and some infants develop fevers when teething. The rising of the body’s temperature is a sign that the baby’s body is fighting against invading agents. The higher the temperature rises, the harder the body is fighting against infection. 

Ice packs, or ice baths, are an outdated approach to bring down a high temperature and they actually do the opposite. The body responds to cold temperature by shivering, and the body’s tiny shaking movement promotes friction which, in turn, produces heat. Thus, exposing an infant to ice packs may raise the temperature even further as the baby starts to shiver.

Instead of cold therapy, use warm techniques instead, such as bathing your baby in lukewarm water. Encourage your child to drink fluids to prevent dehydration. Also, dress your baby lightly; bundling will only raise the temperature further.

If your child is three months old or younger, seek advice from your pediatrician. You can use over-the-counter acetaminophen to help reduce fever, but these should only be given to a newborn if recommended by a medical professional.

Never give a baby or child aspirin. It may interact with viruses that will affect the child’s brain and liver and lead to a possibly fatal condition known as Reye’s Syndrome. Using rubbing alcohol on a child is also not recommended as it may cause eye or skin irritation, according to the “The Merck Manual of Home Health Handbook.” 

Consult your pediatrician if your baby will not eat or drink, becomes lethargic or will not wake up, if the naval or penis appears inflamed or tender or if the fever lasts longer than three days or greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius).

Got a question, or anything I can help with?  My name is Steve Stretton, and I’m the owner and manager at You can drop me a line here. Good luck!

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