By Lauren Glendenning, For Memorial Regional Health
As Children Play Outside This Winter, It’s Essential to Reduce Cold Weather-Related Health and Safety Risks
White-glistening snow set against beautiful Colorado blue skies make winter a wonderful season for outdoor enjoyment, but it’s important to make sure your children stay safe and warm — especially during winter breaks from school when they have more free time to spend outside.
From playing outside in the snow to winter recreation activities such as skiing and sledding, here are some of the issues to prepare for this winter.
Frostbite — which can occur more quickly in children than adults — happens when the skin and outer tissues become frozen. It tends to happen on extremities like the fingers, toes, ears and nose.
“If frostbite occurs, bring the child indoors and place the frostbitten parts of her body in warm (not hot) water,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. “104 degrees Fahrenheit (about the temperature of most hot tubs) is recommended. Warm washcloths may be applied to frostbitten nose, ears and lips.”
Exposed skin can be vulnerable to frostbite, depending on weather conditions. The Mayo Clinic reports the risk of frostbite is less than 5 percent when the air temperature is above 5 degrees, but wind chills can change those risks.
“At wind chill levels below negative 18 degrees Fahrenheit, frostbite can occur on exposed skin in 30 minutes or less. If the temperature dips below 0 degrees Fahrenheit or the wind chill is extreme, consider taking a break or choosing an indoor exercise, instead,” according to The Mayo Clinic.
Hypothermia — when the body temperature of an individual falls below 35 degrees Celsius, or about 95 degrees Fahrenheit — occurs when your body can’t produce enough energy to keep the internal body temperature warm enough, according to the American Heart Association. Symptoms include lack of coordination, confusion, slurred speech, cold feet and hands, shivering, sleepiness and slowed reactions. It can be deadly.
Hypothermia often happens to children when they’ve been playing outdoors without the proper clothing, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“As hypothermia sets in, the child may shiver and become lethargic and clumsy. Speech may become slurred and body temperature will decline in more severe cases,” according to the academy.
Exercising in cold weather, especially cold, wet weather, can increase the risk of hypothermia. The Mayo Clinic recommends dressing in layers to help stay dry during physical activity. Synthetic materials are best for staying dry, while cotton is one of the worst materials, because it stays wet next to your skin. If it’s snowing or raining, only exercise outdoors if you have waterproof gear.
Safety During Winter Sports and Activities
Set reasonable time limits on outdoor play to prevent hypothermia and frostbite, and have children come inside periodically to warm up, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Here are some of the academy’s tips for safe winter activities for children.
- Keep sledders away from motor vehicles.
- Children should always be supervised by adults while sledding.
- Only sled while sitting up with feet first.
- Use steerable sleds, not snow disks or inner tubes.
- Avoid sledding in crowded areas.
Skiing and Snowboarding
- Wear helmets.
- Make sure the equipment is properly fitted.
- Wear gloves with built-in wrist guards.
- Always wear eye protection or goggles.
- Avoid skiing in areas with trees or other obstacles.
- Never ski or snowboard alone. Young children should always be supervised by an adult.
- Stay on slopes that fit the child’s ability level, and avoid crowded slopes.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 16 not operate snowmobiles and that children under age 6 never ride on snowmobiles.
Rapid Care at MRH
Craig Rapid Care offers day, evening and weekend hours so you can receive care when it’s best for you. Appointments aren’t necessary — just walk in. Open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, at 2020 W. Victory Way in Craig.
10 Winter Safety Tips for Children
- Dress in layers. Make sure the head, neck and hands are covered, and dress babies and young children in one more layer than an adult would wear.
- Don’t play or sled in the streets. Ice on the roads can make braking difficult, and visibility can be limited due to snow banks or weather.
- Beware of clothing hazards, such as scarves and hood strings that can choke smaller children.
- Check in with your children to make sure they’re warm. If they’re outside, keep watching them and checking in to make sure they’re not wet or cold.
- Use sunscreen. Children and adults can still get sunburned in the winter, especially in high-altitude Colorado, where the UV exposure is stronger.
- Use caution around fires. Put up protective gates, and be sure smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are working.
- Use the proper safety gear for outdoor recreation, and teach children how to participate in outdoor activities safely.
- Prevent nosebleeds. Children who are prone to winter nosebleeds could benefit from a cold-air humidifier in their bedroom, or from saline nose drops.
- Stay hydrated. We lose more water through breath in drier winter air, so make sure your children drink plenty of water.
- Watch for cold-weather danger signs of frostbite and hypothermia.