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Safe Snow Play in the Winter

Posted 12/15/2017 by UHBlog

You don’t need to be housebound until next spring. Talk to us about what precautions to take to help your child handle Northeast Ohio’s winter wonderland.

Young girl playing in the snow

As the weather turns cold, it's still important for your child to go outside for fresh air and exercise. By following a few simple rules, your kids can have fun and be safe.

“Regardless of the season, we recommend that children get at least 30 – and preferably 60 minutes – of exercise each day,” says pediatrician Brian Zack, MD. “There is a tendency in the colder months to become more sedentary, so finding activities both indoors and outdoors for them to do is very important.”

There are an abundance of winter sports and activities to enjoy in Northeast Ohio, such as playing in the backyard, hiking in the park, or going sledding, ice skating, snowboarding or skiing. One advantage of playing outside for your child is exposure to sunlight – a good source of natural vitamin D, which is essential to bone growth and maintenance. Another bonus is that the viruses and bacteria that cause illnesses are much more likely to be transmitted indoors than out.

Safe snow play requires taking extra precautions, however. For starters, make sure you and your child is dressed appropriately for the weather. For children, this includes:

  • Taking extra care in dressing infants and children before letting them outside. Several layers of clothing not only are good by themselves, but the air between the layers serves as extra insulation.
  • Wearing warm boots that are big enough to fit even with two pairs of heavy socks, and donning gloves or mittens and a hat. Mittens are recommended over gloves for warmth.
  • Using waterproof-clothing as the top layer. This stops the melting snow from getting into the lower layers and drawing heat away from the body.
  • Dressing infants and younger children in one more layer than adults wear.

“Temperatures at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or above, if your child is dressed appropriately, that doesn't present a big risk,” says Dr. Zack. “But when temperatures are between 13 and 32 degrees Fahrenheit you should bring your child inside to a warmer area for breaks every 20 to 30 minutes. Remember to include wind chill, which can make the ambient temperature much lower than what you see on the thermometer. Children shouldn't play outside when the temperature is below 13 degrees.”

With cold-weather activities, two main concerns are:

  • Hypothermia. This occurs when your internal core temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. If the body temperature falls too low, hyperthermia can be fatal. Early indicators include shivering and signs of exhaustion. As the body’s temperature drops, your child will start to be confused, lethargic, have slurred speech and possibly lose consciousness. Infants develop pale or bright red skin and have little energy.
  • Frostbite. This occurs when the skin, nerves and other tissues freeze. Frostnip is mild frostbite. It leaves the skin red and your child will talk about how their fingers, toes, ears, noses or cheeks are “tingly” or numb. Frostbite is much more serious. The area becomes hard, very cold to the touch and the skin turns white or yellow-gray in color. There can be loss of feeling.

“When you see the first signs for either hypothermia or mild frostbite, bring the child inside and start warming them,” Dr. Zack says. “Put on dry clothes and wrap them in a blanket. If alert, you can give them hot chocolate or cider, but not caffeinated drinks, and watch them closely. You can use warm water, up to 100 degree Fahrenheit, to warm them if done carefully. Anyone suffering from hypothermia or frostbite will have a decreased ability to sense when water or other objects are too warm, and can suffer burns easily.”

If you have are any concerns, contact your pediatrician or go to an emergency department quickly.

If your child has confusion, intense shivering, trouble with muscle coordination, becomes sleepy and is hard to arouse, get them to an emergency room right away. If you take your child’s temperature, use either a rectal thermometer or place it under the tongue. Being outside would make the reading from the ear or forehead unreliable. Should your child have a temperature less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit, stops responding or loses consciousness, call 9-1-1 immediately.

“With some education and a little vigilance, winter can be a safe and fun time,” Dr. Zack says.

For information on more aspects of winter safety, contact your doctor or go the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website,

Brian Zack, MD is a pediatrician at University Hospitals Pediatricenter of Greater Cleveland. You can request an appointment with Dr. Zack or any doctor online.

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