The Medical Minute: How to winter-proof your kids

January 06, 2010

By Susan Rzucidlo

When cold weather sets in, it’s time for warm clothes to be set out. But knowing how to dress your son or daughter for outdoor play is just one part of winter safety. It also is important to know when to bring children in or not let them out at all.

* If the weather calls for a wind-chill advisory, you should keep small children inside. When the index goes below zero, frostbite can become an issue within a matter of minutes.
* Infants and toddlers are especially at risk. They tend to spend a lot of time in strollers or car seats, unable to move to keep warm. Their heads are relatively large in comparison to their bodies, too. That means they lose heat more easily than older children or adults.
* In frostnip, which precedes frostbite, the skin turns white and becomes numb. Noses, ears, fingers, and toes are most susceptible to frostnip or frostbite. The standard treatment is to cover the affected parts with warm water. The temperature in most hot tubs, 104 degrees, is about right. A warm drink also helps. Doctors don’t recommend rubbing.
* Another risk is hypothermia, which sets in when the body’s core temperature drops below normal. Hypothermia usually occurs in wet, windy and freezing conditions.
* Symptoms to watch for are shivering, clumsiness and slurred speech. If you become concerned, get your child to a warm environment and seek medical attention right away. Cold-related injuries can be serious and early identification and treatment are essential.

Here’s how to dress your child to head off problems:

* Layers of clothing that breathe (thermal underwear, a turtleneck shirt, sweater, or fleece pullover)
* A knitted ski hat (wool or polypropylene)
* A scarf
* Mittens (warmer than gloves)
* Warm socks
* Winter boots
* A water-resistant parka with sleeves snug at the wrist
* Do your plans include ice skating, skiing, snowboarding or sledding? Consider a helmet as well. Also advisable: water, energy bars, sunglasses and sunscreen. Snow mirrors the sun and kids can get sunburned.

For more information on winter safety and tips for keeping your family safe, call the Dauphin County SAFE KIDS Coalition, led by Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, at (717) 531-SAFE (7233).

Susan Rzucidlo is the Safe Kids Dauphin County Coalition coordinator and the Pediatric Trauma and Injury Prevention Program manager at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.


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Last Updated January 19, 2010