Winter can be lots of fun, but unfortunately, there are some associated potential dangers. Here are some facts and important tips about keeping children safe during the winter months:
- Children can easily succumb to frostbite, so during cold weather, make sure that your child’s clothing, shoes, boots and gloves stay dry. If either of these items gets wet, change your child into dry ones.
- Make sure your children do not play in snow that is piled up for clearing on the street or sidewalks. Tragically, children have been killed by snow clearing equipment while playing in these banks.
- As the winter ice and snow melts, it may fall from a roof or side of a home or building and injure someone seriously. Make sure that your home or building is free of this hazard.
- Whenever sledding or tobogganing, sliding on or into a road should not be allowed. Additionally, go down shallow slopes free of obstacles such as trees. Avoid sliding down a crowded slope.
- Most winter sport injuries involve twists, sprains and strains. These injuries can be protected, for example during skiing and skating, by getting your child good instructors, proper equipment and of course, appropriate supervision.
- Helmets have become part of the regular or standard equipment or attire in biking, hockey, inline skating, baseball and football to name a few. They should also become a regular habit in winter sports or activities that can potentially cause life threatening head injuries such as tobogganing and skiing.
- Snowmobiling is particularly risky for children and young adults. For safety reasons, children under six years should never ride as passengers on snowmobiles. Also, only children older than 16 years of age should drive snowmobiles. Of course, drivers and passengers should always wear the proper protective equipment, including an approved helmet.
- Frozen ponds or lakes make for great skating. Make sure, however, that the ice is thick enough to allow safe skating before you let your children walk onto or skate on such frozen surfaces.
- Fireplaces are fun, warm and cosy, but should be used safely. Always use a screen to prevent sparks from igniting items around the fireplace such as newspapers carpets, furniture and curtains. Only use the fireplace when you’re at home and awake.
- You should install carbon monoxide detectors in your home if your heating system uses fuel such as oil or gas.
- Never leave children in a running parked car, especially during the winter, because the snow can block the car exhaust pipe, resulting in carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be deadly.
Frostbite means that a part of a body has been frozen and this can be quite dangerous. Exposure to cold temperature without adequate protection can result in frostbite. Usually it is the face, nose, ears, fingers and toes that get frostbitten.
Frostbite can occur during any outdoor activity including play, and especially fast moving sports such as skating, skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing. Obviously the colder and windier it is, the quicker an unprotected body part or area will freeze.
What does frostbite look like?
The skin around a frostbitten area initially becomes red then pale (white) and very rarely bluish. As the skin warms up, there can be some blisters. It is the parent’s (or caretaker’s) responsibility to ensure young children are protected from the cold. After all, the kids are busy just enjoying the winter fun. Here are some tips on how to prevent frostbite:
- Children should be dressed warmly, with properly fitted clothing. Several thin layers will help keep children warm. Clothing includes thermal long johns, turtlenecks, one or two shirts, pants, sweater, coat, warm socks, boots, gloves or mittens, and of course, a hat.
- Do not let children stay out in the cold too long. Set reasonable time limits on outdoor play. This, of course, will depend on how cold it is.
- Call children inside periodically to warm up.
- When possible, avoid taking infants and young children outdoors when it is colder than or 4 C. Infants lose body heat quickly.
- Use your common sense: for example, if there is a cold or frostbite warning issued, do not let your children go outdoors at all.
- Make sure children’s clothing are dry. Change into dry clothing immediately, as wet clothing can make frostbite occur quicker.
- Keep these points in mind even for older children and teach them how to prevent frostbite.
Recognizing and treating frostbite
The signs and symptoms of frostbite include numbness or pain in the fingers, toes, nose, cheeks or ears. Also, the skin may be blistered, hard to the touch or seem shiny. Although prevention is best, if ever there is the possibility of frostbite, take the following steps:
- Take the child indoors immediately;
- Call your doctor or health help line;
- Ask the child to move the affected body part to increase blood supply to that area;
- Warm the white frozen part(s) against the body. Hold fingers to the chest, for example
- Soak the frozen part or area in warm water (not hot water);
- Be gentle, as frozen tissue can be damaged easily. Do not rub or break blisters and do not massage the frozen area or rub it with snow or ice;
- Frostbite is usually painful. For associated pain, acetaminophen may be needed according to age and weight;
- If the frostbitten area does not improve, remains white or turns blue, seek medical attention.
Pediatrician and health communications pioneer Dr. Paul Roumeliotis has produced hundreds of articles, booklets and videos on a variety of child health issues. His highly acclaimed, groundbreaking book for parents focusing on the importance of the first 18 months of life, Baby Come Home, was released in early 2015 and is an Amazon bestseller. Visit www.drpaul.com and follow Dr. Paul on Twitter: @thedrpaul.