Cold Weather Safety
Hypothermia and Frostbite
While this information is given in terms of "your child", they are applicable to people of any age. Keep in mind that since children are smaller than adults they loose body heat more rapidly and will suffer cold-related injuries sooner than adults do. Also remember that when children are playing outside on a cold day they may not pay any attention to how cold they are, so it's up to you to keep an eye on them, and to remind older children of the dangers.
Frostbite is the most common cold-related injury. When someone has the mildest form (superficial) they will have grey or yellowish patches on the frozen areas. Their skin remains soft, but becomes red and flaky after thawing. If this happens to your child, treat it by bring him into a warm place, removing any tight clothing that could restrict his circulation, and warming the affected areas with warm, NOT hot water (102-106 degrees F.) Do NOT rub or massage the frostbite area and do not rub with ice or snow.
Deep frostbite usually occurs on the feet or hands. There will be waxy, pale, solid skin which can become blue or purple when thawed; large blisters may also appear. If this happens, take the person inside and get immediate medical attention.
Hypothermia occurs when your body looses more heat that it products. Early symptoms include uncontrollable shivering, impaired speech and clumsy movements. A person with severe hypothermia may have rigid muscles, dark and puffy skin, irregular heartbeat and respiration, and they may become unconsciousness.
Treatment: Protect the person from more heat loss and seek immediate medical attention. Remove any wet clothing, but do not rub the skin. (None of my sources mentioned this, but a good way to warm up someone suffering from hypothermia until medical help can be reached is for one or two people to share their body warmth by crawling in naked next to the cold person and wrapping everybody up under a pile of warm clothes or blankets.)
The best thing, of course, is to take precautions so hypothermia and frostbite never happen in the first place:
*Dress your child properly for the weather. Several layers of thick, loose-fitting clothing allows warm air to becoming trapped between the layers. It also allows for layers to be removed if your child becomes too warm. Clothes should my made of loosely-woven cotton or wool fabrics.
*Your child will loose heat most rapidly from her head and neck, and is most apt to get frostbite on her cheeks, ears and nose, so be sure to have her wear clothes that protect these parts of her body. It can take as little as 30 seconds for bare skin to become frostbitten if the weather is very cold or the wind chill factor high.
*Remind your children that when they're playing outside on a cold day they should keep moving around, and not sit or stand in one place for very long. If they do need to sit, they should sit on blankets or a portable seat, rather than on cold pavement or concrete.
*Have them drink warm caffeine-free fluids to keep from becoming dehydrated. (A note for adults: these fluids should be also be nonalcoholic, since alcohol lessens the body's ability to feel the cold.)
*Caution your children to avoid becoming wet when playing outside on cold days (wet clothes loose 90% of their insulating value). Have them wear their warm clothes under rain gear, if necessary. If your child's clothing does get wet, have them change immediately to dry clothing.
*Tell your children that if their fingers or toes start to sting, that's their body's way of telling them "I'm cold! Bring me inside so I can warm up, please!"
Sleds and Toboggans*Young children (under nine years old or so) should not be allowed to go sledding alone. Older children should be taught safe sledding practices.
*Keep all equipment in good condition.
*Dress warmly (see first part of this article!)
*The safest sledding hills are spacious, gently sloping hills. The sledding path should not cross or be near streets and roadways, and should be free from holes, bare spots, rocks, trees, fences, telephone poles, or other obstructions and barriers. There should be a level run-off at the end so the sled can come to a safe stop.
* Do not sled on or around frozen bodies of water as the ice may be unstable.
*If your child likes to sled headfirst, have her wear a bicycle helmet to protect her from head injury.
Last updated Sun, Jun 4, 2006
© 1999-2006 by Donna Zelzer. All rights reserved.