Baby, It’s Cold Outside: Keeping Your Kids Warm in the Winter Months
For many kids, outerwear is the enemy. Parents are forced to bribe, cajole and outright battle with kids over wearing coats, mittens, hats and scarves. But you mustn’t give up the fight! Exposure to the elements could result in frostbite — damage to the skin from freezing due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures — and hypothermia.
Children are at greater risk than adults for frostbite and hypothermia because they lose heat from their skin more quickly. Temperature is not the only determining factor. In fact, children and adults can suffer the beginning stages of frostbite in above-freezing temperatures, as wind chill and wind speed can create dangerously cold conditions.
Frostbite can occur during any outdoor activity including play and sports, such as skating, skiing, sledding and snowboarding. Usually, the most affected body parts are the face, nose, ears, fingers and toes.
Look for these signs of frostbite:
- Numbness or pain in the fingers, toes, nose, cheeks or ears
- Redness of the affected area that then turns gray, white or yellow
- Skin that feels hard to the touch, may be blistered, or seems shiny
Although not as common as frostbite, hypothermia is another threat posed by extremely cold weather. Hypothermia occurs when the body can’t produce enough energy to keep its internal temperature constant. Very young children are most susceptible to hypothermia.
To prevent frostbite and hypothermia:
- Layer up. Dress children in layers. Wearing several thin layers of warm clothing will trap warm air and provide more protection. Wearing heavy socks, or two thinner layers of socks, and waterproof insulated boots will protect the feet. Gloves or mittens will protect the hands.
- Use your head. Between 30 and 50 percent of heat loss occurs through the head. Hats with earflaps offer the maximum protection.
- Stay dry. Change wet clothing periodically. Have several pairs of dry socks and mittens handy.
- Watch the clock. Do not let children stay out in the cold too long. Set reasonable time limits on outdoor play based on how cold it is. While most children will come inside when they are uncomfortably cold, remind them that if they can’t feel their fingers or toes, it’s time to come inside.
- Baby your babies. When possible, avoid taking infants and young children outdoors when it is colder than 40 degrees, as infants lose body heat quickly. If you must take them out, bundle them up.
- Watch the signs. Recognize the symptoms of hypothermia: confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. Recognize frostbite warning signs: gray, white or yellow skin discoloration, pain and numbness.
- Be prepared. When traveling, keep a winter storm survival kit in your car. This should include blankets, gloves, food, flares and first aid supplies.
Reviewed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello Jr., MD
Date: December 2012