Playing it Safe in the Winter

| Posted On Mar 01, 2018 | By:

kids sledding in the snowWhen New England is transformed into a winter wonderland, kids often can’t wait to get out in the snow. The season brings countless opportunities for fun, but it is important for families to be aware of the risks unique to winter activities.

Winter Sports Safety

Injuries are more common than many people may realize. In the US, about 61,000 children ages 5-14 are treated in emergency rooms annually for injuries related to ice hockey, sledding, skiing, or snowboarding. The most severe injuries are associated with individual sports and recreational activities, which many winter sports are, and contribute 21% of traumatic brain injuries in pediatric patients.

One of the most important points we can make is that these injuries can often be prevented by having the proper gear. Protective helmets, hockey pads, and properly fitted skis, boards, boots, and skates are keys to decreasing the chances of a serious injury. Make sure a professional fits both new and used equipment and rentals for your child. If your child is receiving a lesson or being coached, these experts can also be used to confirm that the proper gear is being used.

The second most important point is that injuries are less likely to occur with appropriate planning and supervision. Make sure you help your child make safe choices about where to sled and skate, and choose ski slopes that match their skill level. When it comes to sledding, it’s best to have only one sledder on a slope at a time to avoid collision. While that can be hard to control, you can make sure your child always sleds feet-first (not head-first!). The best sleds are those that allow the child to steer (versus an inner tube, for example) and that are more flexible and bendable with no hard or sharp edges or metal parts.

Dealing with the Elements

How cold is too cold for kids to play outside? This decision should be based on wind chill, and here are the guidelines for kids of any age:

When taking babies and toddlers out in the cold, it’s a good idea to bundle them in 1 more layer than you would wear – think a few thin layers plus a snowsuit and a blanket, etc.

It’s actually a myth that cold weather causes illness, at least directly. According to a large 2002 meta-analysis, a simple drop in temperature and a corresponding cooling of the body does not increase rates of the common cold. What winter conditions can do is make you more susceptible to germs and create a better environment for germs to live. Here’s how it works: dry air prevents our immune defenses from working well: dry air means nasal hairs and mucus can’t block germs as effectively, and also allows aerosolized germ droplets to survive longer. Some viruses, like influenza, are more resilient in colder temperatures. And germs can spread more easily when people are stuck indoors together in close quarters.

Extreme cold, however, does directly tie to the risk for hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia is when your body temperature falls below 95°F due to exposure to extreme cold. It can occur with prolonged time outdoors or if your clothing gets wet, and can set in faster in kids than adults. Signs include shivering, slurred speech, and lethargy. If you see any of these signs, bring your child indoors, remove wet clothing, and wrap in warm blankets, and call your doctor’s office right away.

Frostbite is when skin tissue freezes and tends to occur on fingers, toes, ears, or nose. The skin can become pale or gray, blister, or feel burning or numb. While this is less of an emergency than hypothermia, you should still act quickly and place the area of damaged skin in warm (not hot) water, about 100°F. Do not rub the skin as this can worsen the tissue damage. If the paleness or blistering does not resolve within 20-30 minutes, you should call your child’s pediatrician.

And don’t forget sun protection! While using sun protection doesn’t always jibe with our perceptions of this season, high altitudes and the sun reflecting off the snow can increase the likelihood of skin damage. Make sure your kids have sunglasses or goggles to protect from glare, and sunblock and lip balm to prevent burns.

A Word on Driving

We’d be remiss if we didn’t remind parents to counsel their teen drivers on how to modify their driving in ice and snow. Remind them before and during each storm that they need to give more space between their car and others, slow down, be cautious and use the right technique to turn and stop. They also need to be more aware of pedestrians who may be walking in the street if sidewalks are blocked.

For parents with small children who need a car seat, snowsuits, thick jackets or excessive bundling can create space between your child and the straps, and that gap can be enough to launch your child out of the seat in the event of an accident. We recommend dressing your child in thin layers, fastening buckles, then draping the jacket over your child. If you’re worried that your child will still be cold in the car, bring an extra blanket, start the car a bit early to warm it up, or store the seat indoors so it doesn’t get cold sitting in the car.

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