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Keeping Children Safe From the Bite of Old Man Winter
Up in the frozen North where I live, children love to play in the sparkling snow as soon as it appears. The snow powder can motivate kids to get into all sorts of mischief. Building snow forts and sledding down snowy hills are great fun, but these activities can also expose children to the danger of developing hypothermia (body temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit) and frostbite.
There are steps that parents can take to ensure their children don’t suffer from frostbite or dangerously low temperatures. First, parents should not assume that children respond to the cold the same way they do. Children are much more sensitive to the cold than adults.
Children are more vulnerable than adults to rapid heat loss because they have larger heads and a large body surface area in comparison to their body mass. Children have less energy resources in their bodys to drawn on and burn in the cold. This is especially true about babies who cannot shiver in order to generate heat.
“Kids love to be outside, but they also are more vulnerable to cold weather than adults,” said Dr. Tony Pangan, pediatrician at Loyola University Health System and assistant professor of pediatrics, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “Most kids won’t notice changes in their bodies related to cold exposure. As a parent your goal should be to be prepared and equipped to help kids have safe winter fun.”
Before going out
- Keep children inside on extremely cold days. Children should not be outside in snowstorms or on days when the temperature falls below -25° C (13° F) or the wind chill is more than -28° C (18° F).
- Choose safe play areas. Help kids to select play areas that are close to a warm shelter such as a friend’s home if they are not close to their house. Advise children to stay away from potential hazards such as water, fences, roads, snowblowers, snowplows and other potentially dangerous areas.
- Give the child a snack before going out. Food will give the children's bodies an energy boost.
- Put sunscreen on the child’s face, even on cloudy days. Snow can reflect up to 85 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Dressing for the weather
- Do not dress the child in cotton clothes. Cotton does not insulate if the material becomes wet. Wool and fleece are better choices to keep children warm outdoors.
- Remove drawstrings. Drawstrings can be a choking hazard for kids and could get caught on things. Use velcro or other types of fasteners instead to secure clothing.
- Dress the child in layers. Children can remove a layer if they become too warm while playing. If one layer becomes wet from freezing rain or snow, the child can remove it to keep dry and prevent moisture getting on their skin. Long underwear and a sweater will help the children to stay warm. Waterproof jackets and pants won’t allow moisture to seep into the other levels of clothing. Boots should be warm, waterproof and be roomy enough for the children to wiggle their toes inside.
- Change kids out of wet clothing and boots ASAP. Check the children from time to time to ensure they are warm and dry. Wet clothing draws heat from the body. Make sure that mittens are dry and warm. If their clothes become wet, help them to warm up with dry clothes and provide a hot drink such as hot chocolate.
- Put a hat on the child to keep them warm. Hatless children can lose up to 60 percent of their body heat while outside.
- Make sure the nose, ears, hands and feet are covered. The cheeks, ears, fingers, and toes are the areas of the body that are most vulnerable to frostbite. Put an extra pair of dry gloves or mittens in the children's pockets so they can switch if they plan to play outside for a while.
- Children should play outside with a buddy. Friends can watch out for each other while outside. Children under the age of eight require constant supervision by an adult.
- Encourage children to play safe. Parents and caregivers should explain which activities are safe and which are not safe. For example, burrowing a tunnel through a snowbank puts children at risk of a snow collapse. Throwing snowballs can also be dangerous and lead to injuries, especially to the eyes.
- Limit the time that chidren are outside: make children come into their home or shelter frequently to limit their exposure to the elements.
Dealing with hypothermia
If more serious symptoms appear, children should be brought inside immediately. The children need to be changed out of their wet clothes ad boots into warm, dry clothes. Then children should be wrapped in a blanket to speed warming.
Concerned parents should call 911 immediately or take their child to an emergency department if they spot hypothermia symptoms.
Signs of hypothermia:
- Cold, bluish extremities
If the body temperatures drops further:
- Slurred speech
If parents suspect frostbite, they can do the following:
- Place the affected area in warm (not hot) water at 104-108°F (40-42°C) until the children are able to feel sensation in their bodies again
- Avoid rubbing the skin as it is fragile and could easily be damaged
- Give the child something warm to drink
Symptoms of frostbite
These symptoms require immediate medical attention.
Parents should call 911 or take their child to the nearest hospital emergency department.
- sin starts to be red and then turns yellowish gray or white
- Numbing or burning sensation on the skin
- Blisters may develop
© 2013 Carola Finch