By: Dr. Weiner
Winter is here and the weather has been all over the place. Even though
we have seen several unseasonably warm days, we also have been
experiencing some extremely cold temperatures. But we all still need to
get outside for some enjoyable wintertime activities. Sledding, ice skating
and building snow people are great ways to get in the hour of exercise
that kids need daily. It is important to make sure children stay warm and
avoid injury from the cold temperature.
Children are more at risk from the cold than adults due to their smaller bodies. They lose heat more rapidly and may get distracted from the cues their bodies are sending them when they’re enjoying time in the snow. This places them at higher risk of frostbite and hypothermia which can be life threatening.
Frostbite occurs when the skin actually begins to freeze. Fingers, toes, ears and noses are the most common areas of the body to become frostbitten. When this occurs the skin may start to hurt and feel like it is burning. Numbness can follow. Color changes may occur with skin looking white or pale gray. Sometimes blisters can form just like with a bad sunburn.
If your child exhibits any of these symptoms they should immediately be brought indoors to gently warm up. This is best accomplished by soaking frostbitten areas in warm (not hot) water or applying warm washcloths for 20-30 minutes then drying them and covering them with blankets and give warm fluids to drink. If there are any blisters, do not pop them. Rubbing the affected areas should be avoided. If the pain or numbness persists, call our office or the answering service if after hours.
Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below normal form the cold. The body starts to shiver to try to warm itself up. More concerning signs are sluggishness, clumsiness and slurred speech. This is a medical emergency and 911 should be called right away. Until help arrives, the child should be brought indoors and any wet clothing should be removed as it will draw heat away from the body. Cover your child in blankets or warm clothing and give them warm fluids to drink.
The best way to prevent frostbite and hypothermia is to avoid sending your child outdoors when the wind chill falls below -15 degrees Fahrenheit. Exposed skin begins to freeze very quickly in these conditions. Children should wear several layers of clothing to keep warm and dry. They should wear insulated boots and gloves and always wear a hat. Set reasonable time limits for outdoor play and make sure they take off wet clothing when they come indoors.