GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Michigan is in the midst of a very cold winter with temperatures expected to drop even lower in the days to come. Spectrum Health experts warn that now is the time for parents to take extra precautions when sending young children outdoors for any length of time.
Jennifer Hoekstra, Injury Prevention program coordinator with Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, says that parents need to know how to prevent extreme cold weather exposure and be ready to respond appropriately at the first sign of problems.
“Children don’t realize that they can get in trouble very quickly when they are out and about in temperatures that are expected to be way below freezing,” she explains.
Hoekstra offers the following advice:
Problems arise when infants and children are not dressed properly. They should be dressed in several thin layers to say warm and dry. Adequate outdoor clothing includes thermal long johns, turtlenecks, at least one shirt, pants, sweater, coat, warm socks, boots, gloves or mittens and a hat.
Hypothermia develops when a child’s temperature falls below normal due to exposure to cold. It often happens when children are playing outdoors in extremely cold weather without wearing proper clothing or when clothes get wet. As hypothermia sets in, the child may shiver and become lethargic and clumsy. A child’s speech may become slurred and body temperature will decline.
Parents should call 911 immediately if they suspect their child is hypothermic. Until help arrives, they should take the child indoors, remove any wet clothing and wrap him or her in blankets or warm clothes.
Frostbite happens when the skin and outer tissues become frozen. This condition tends to happen on extremities like the fingers, toes, ears and nose. Parents should watch for extremities that may become pale, gray and blistered. The child may complain that their skin burns or has become numb.
If these signs of frostbite occur, parents should:
- Bring the child indoors and place the frostbitten parts of the body in warm water.
- Apply warm washcloths to frostbitten nose, ears and lips.
- Do not rub the frozen areas or use a heating pad.
- After a few minutes, dry and cover the child with clothing or blankets.
- Give the child something warm to drink.
- If the numbness continues for more than a few minutes, call your child’s doctor.
When the temperatures drop as low as are expected next week, “the best advice is to keep your children inside and busy with indoor activities,” says Hoekstra.
For more information about the Safe Kids program at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, visit www.helendevoschildrens.org/injuryprevention.