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Protect Your Kids from Winter's Chill

Calgary’s ability to host -40°C weather is dangerous, especially for young children. Avoiding winter-related health problems, such as frostbite, pneumonia, and hypothermia, play a vital role in Calgary living. One of the simplest ways to protect your children from the extreme cold is to dress them appropriately.

As per Parachute’s recommendations (Parachute is Canada’s national charity dedicated to injury prevention) all winter activities your children partake in outside require warm and dry clothing, and should include:

  • a thick hat that covers the ears.
  • loose layers (An absorbent, synthetic fabric next to the skin, a warmer/heavier middle layer, and a water resistant outer layer.)
  • socks (A single pair of socks, either wool or wool blend with silk or polypropylene. Cotton offers no insulation when wet.)
  • Avoid extra thick socks as they can cause cold feet (by restricting blood flow and air circulation).
  • boots (Dry, water resistant, and not too tight.)

Preventing winter injury goes beyond clothing. Your kids should drink plenty of warm fluids to help their body maintain its temperature; water also goes a long way.

When playing outdoors in the cold, your kids should take breaks to let their body warm up. Their jackets should be zipped all the way up (using a neck tube or a warm buff may make this more comfortable). However, they shouldn’t play outdoors when the temperature falls below -25°C. Your kids should also wear sunscreen when playing outdoors in the cold, even on cloudy days.

Dangerous illnesses can result from prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. “Prolonged” means the body is losing heat faster than it can be produced, which leads to hypothermia, an abnormally low body temperature. Body temperature that is too low eventually affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This is especially dangerous because the victim may not be able to acknowledge the problem.

Here are some tips from Parachute for recognizing symptoms of hypothermia.

Infants:

  • Bright red, cold skin
  • Very low energy

Youth/adults:

  • Shivering and exhaustion
  • Confusion, slurred speech, or fumbling hands
  • Memory loss
  • Drowsiness 

If any of the above is apparent, take your child’s temperature. If it reads below 35°C (95°F), the severity of the situation requires emergency care.

If medical care is not available, begin warming your child as follows:

  • Bring your child into a warm room.
  • Remove any wet clothing.
  • Warm the centre of their body first: chest, neck, head, and groin. (A heated blanket is ideal. If you don’t have a heated blanket, use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets.)
  • Warm beverages can help raise the body temperature. (Do not give alcoholic beverages.)
  • After the body temperature has increased, keep your child dry and wrapped in a warm blanket (including the head and neck).
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Closely tied to hypothermia is frostbite. Frostbite can affect anyone who lives in a climate like Calgary’s where skin can freeze in minutes. Initially, signs of redness or pain will occur.

Here are a few tips from Parachute for recognizing frostbite symptoms on your infant or child:

  • A white or greyish-yellow skin area
  • Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • Numbness

You may be the first person to notice frostbite on your child as young victims are often unaware due to the numbness. If you suspect your child may have frostbite, seek medical assistance. Frostbite and hypothermia both result from exposure to cold. First, determine whether your child has hypothermia, which is the more serious condition and requires emergency medical attention.

If only frostbite is present and immediate medical care is not available, following these steps will make the best use of time:

  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Unless necessary, your child should not walk on frostbitten toes or feet.
  • Immerse the affected area of skin in warm water. (Do not use hot water. The water should be comfortable to the touch.)
  • Do not rub or massage the affected area.
  • Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. (Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.)

Here’s to enjoying a happy yet safe winter in the outdoors!

Matthew was born and raised in Calgary. Parachute provides a wealth of injury prevention tips at parachute.ca

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