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Is it safe to apply chemical cold packs to a child’s face?
Q: I work in a childcare centre where we use chemical cold packs when children get bumps and bruises. Is it safe to use the packs on children’s faces? What if a child bites it? Is the chemical poisonous?
A: Kelsey, as you’ve seen, it can be helpful to put a cold pack on children’s injuries to reduce the swelling, inflammation, bruising and pain. Also, when you tend to a child’s injury and even have him help hold the cold pack, it’s very comforting and can distract him from his distress.

There are different types of chemical cold packs:
  • A pack stored at room temperature that contains a dry chemical (e.g., ammonium nitrate or urea) and a chamber of water inside. When you break open the inner chamber, the chemical and water mix, and the chemical reaction absorbs heat, which causes the pack to get cold. These can only be used once.
  • A reusable pack stored in the freezer with silica gel inside, which stays soft when cold.

Most cold packs contain materials that are not considered highly toxic. But it is not considered safe to swallow them. They can also cause irritation if they get in the mouth, eyes or on the skin. Here are some safety precautions to follow when using a chemical cold pack:
  1. Always supervise a child with a cold pack.
  2. Place a clean cloth between the injury and the cold pack to prevent a cold burn on the skin.
  3. Instruct the child to hold the pack tightly on her injury and never put in it her mouth because it can be poisonous.
  4. Leave the pack on for only 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. If the child bites into the pack, rinse out her mouth with water. If the material gets into her eyes, rinse her eyes with water. If it gets on her skin, rinse it off with soap and water. Call Poison Control immediately at 800-222-1222 for further information.

Instead of using a chemical cold pack, consider using a homemade cold pack without chemicals. Wet a sponge or face towel with water and squeeze it out until it’s just damp. Seal it in a plastic bag and leave it in the freezer. Or, use a bag of frozen peas or corn, which is soft and molds to the body.