Protect Your Child from Cold Weather Injury

Ask the Experts by Jeanne Lewandowski, MD

Q: What can I do to protect my child from cold weather risks or injury?

A: Parents need to understand the ways in which the body loses heat and limit the amount of time a child is out in the cold, wet or windy weather, especially as children may not be aware of cold temperatures.

Hypothermia, dehydration, eye injuries and frostbite are all potential risks for children in the cold. Exposure in certain areas of the body and too much time outside in the cold and wind can result in hypothermia; dehydration can occur when breathing dry cold air for prolonged periods; eyes can be injured by excessive cold, wind and bright, snowy environments; frostbite is especially worrisome for areas that become wet due to perspiration or wet clothing.

Children often continue to play even when their clothing is frozen and stiff. Doing so puts the tips of their nose, ears, fingers and toes especially at risk.

Dress children appropriately for the weather conditions by remembering the acronym, COLD:

  • Cover your child’s head, neck and face as much as possible since a lot of heat loss can occur in these areas. Apply lip protection.
  • Overexertion can cause your child to sweat and chill more quickly. Sweating causes clothing to become damp and increases heat loss.
  • Layers of clothing will keep your child warm and protect your child best against wind and cold conditions.
  • Dry is key in preventing cold injury. Keeping your child dry with waterproof clothing reduces heat loss.

Always insist they come inside when their clothing feels wet. Make sure they know that tingling, burning or numb feelings of any body part is bad and they must come inside to warm up.

Teach children to avoid touching cold metal. Cold is transmitted more easily through metal and increases the risk of cold injury, like frostbite.

If you think your child might have frostbite (signs are intense color changes of exposed skin, very red, blue, yellow or very pale; doughy thick feeling to the affected area; itching/burning sensations; decreased sensation in the area) get them into a warm, indoor environment. Remove wet clothing. Do not rub, massage, shake or apply pressure to the area as that may damage tissues further. Place the affected area next to warm body heat or wrap in blankets. Seek medical care.

Jeanne Lewandowski, M.D., is the chief of Pediatrics at Beaumont Hospital Grosse Pointe. She can be reached at 313-473-1000. Beaumont Hospital Grosse Pointe is a member of The Family Center’s Association of Professionals.

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