UH News

Cold Weather Safety Reminders

Thursday, January 2, 2014

January 2, 2014, Cleveland, OH – Cold weather is no stranger to Northeast Ohio, but when winter temperatures drop into the single digits or below, parents face special challenges in keeping their children warm and safe. “Because children are smaller than adults, they lose body heat more quickly and will suffer cold-related injuries sooner than adults,” notes Dr. Haitham Haddad, Director of the Pediatric Emergency Department at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “Making sure children are dressed properly for the weather and keeping them dry are keys to cold weather safety.”

Children are most apt to get frostbite on cheeks, ears and noses and 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. Parents should pay attention to the wind chill factor as well as the temperature, since the wind chill index is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the effects of wind and cold. Before going outdoors on a cold day, make sure your children have:

  • A hat that covers the ears
  • A scarf or knit mask to cover the face and mouth
  • Sleeves that are snug at the wrist
  • Mittens—which keep hands warmer than gloves
  • Water-resistant coat and boots
  • Several layers of thick, loose-fitting clothing, which allow warm air to become trapped between the layers. This also allows for layers to be removed if your child becomes too warm.

“Children can get caught up in playing outdoors and not realize how cold they’re getting,” said Dr. Haddad. “Parents need to realize that children may not recognize the warning signs of frostbite or hypothermia—it’s a parent’s job to keep an eye on kids and enforce some basic rules of cold weather safety.”

Follow these rules from the National Safety Council:

  • Remind 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.
  • Keep in mind that wet clothes loose 90% of their insulating value, so that if children's clothing does get wet, they should change immediately to dry clothing.
  • Watch children closely and teach them that they should not ignore shivering—it’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.
  • 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!"
  • Have them drink warm caffeine-free fluids to increase body temperature and keep kids from becoming dehydrated.

If you recognize signs of hypothermia or frostbite in your children, seek medical care immediately:

Warning signs of hypothermia

  • Bright red, cold skin
  • Very low energy
  • Shivering
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Exhaustion or drowsiness

Warning signs of frostbite

  • White or grayish-yellow skin area
  • Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • numbness

Victims are often unaware of frostbite until someone else notices it, because the frozen tissues are numb.

The University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital Injury Prevention Center is dedicated to preventing unintentional injury—the leading killer of American children—by working directly with children and families through education and outreach to decrease injury risk, improve well-being, and combat health disparities, while also sharing creative ideas, resources, and information with all members of the Greater Cleveland community interested in protecting children.

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