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Winter is an exciting time of year, especially when the snow first starts falling. It is also a unique time of year for families to have fun, continue holiday traditions and make new memories. However, winter can be a season for some potential safety hazards, both inside and out.
Dressing children in layers is the best way to protect them against cold temperatures because layers of clothing trap warm air next to the body. However, once a child is too warm, you will need to remove some of the layers, as the child will perspire and wet clothing will make it difficult for the body to maintain a normal temperature. Limit the amount of time you let your child play outside in cold weather to about thirty minutes at a time. If the temperature is below 20 degrees or if there is a wind chill advisory, you should not let your children play outside. Have your child wear a bright color when outside, so he or she can be seen by motorists. Caution your child about sliding down snow banks if they are near a street or alley.
It is also important to make sure your child is warm while waiting for the school bus or while walking to school in the winter. Being exposed to extreme cold for long periods of time can cause fatigue and increase the risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Make sure to have your children wear mittens and boots in winter to help them stay warm and dry. Again, layer whenever possible. Have him or her wear two pairs of socks under their boots and a pair of gloves under their mittens. If your child’s clothing becomes wet, make sure to replace it with dry clothing. Always have your child wear a hat, and if possible, a stocking cap under the hood of their jacket when outside. People can lose up to half their body heat from their head when it is not protected against the cold. If your child will be sledding or using outdoor equipment, check their clothing for hanging drawstrings that can attach to sleds, ski lifts, or other equipment. Stuck drawstrings can cause serious injury, so remove them from hoods and necks and shorten those that hang from jacket bottoms. Use short, not long scarves, and tuck them into jackets.
Make sure while your child is playing outside that they take breaks to come in and warm up and change into dry clothing. While playing, children perspire, making their clothing wet and cold. If the body temperature starts falling, it will be difficult to warm up again. Also, provide healthy meals and a lot of fluids for your children while playing outside, because they will burn more calories just to maintain a normal body temperature.
Hypothermia is a cold weather condition caused by prolonged exposure to the cold. The body temperature drops dangerously low. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, lethargy, and rigid muscles. To bring the body temperature back to normal, you should bring the child inside and dress him or her in warm, dry clothing and cover his or her head. Give your child something warm to drink and call the doctor. If the child is unconscious, call 911 or immediately take the child to the emergency room.
Frostbite is damage to the skin due to prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures. Parts of the body most at risk for frostbite include ears, toes, fingers, and the tip of the nose. Symptoms include a burning and tingling sensation, followed by numbness. If your child develops frostbite, see a doctor immediately. Never massage, rub, or touch the affected area because the skin is easily damaged.
Most sledding accidents occur when a child on a sled runs into a car, tree, or other stationary object. You can help prevent sledding accidents by supervising your children and making sure the area they are sledding in is safe. Many parks allow sledding and have lighted areas to use when it’s dark out. Check out the hills your children will be sledding on to make sure they are not too steep and do not intersect roadways or parking lots. Always check the condition of the sled to make sure it is not broken. Make sure it has a steering mechanism and no sharp edges.
To help monitor skating safety, always check the thickness of the ice-make sure it is at least five inches thick. Skating rinks are usually much safer than frozen bodies of water. Make sure the skates your children wear fit properly and have good ankle support and sharp blades. Always carry skates to the skating area, don’t wear them.
During the winter, there are extra precautions that need to be taken to insure your family is safe. Using a space heater, stove, or fireplace to heat your home is very dangerous, unless properly monitored. Have your fireplace and chimney cleaned and inspected at least once every heating season and always use a screen to prevent burning pieces of wood, paper, or ashes from flying out onto your carpet. If you are using a space heater, make sure you buy an electric model, surround it with a spark-arresting screen, and keep it at least three feet from any other objects, including curtains and furniture.
Another home hazard that occurs more often in winter months is carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. CO is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that can be fatal if not detected. It is usually emitted by improperly working fuel burning appliances, or water heaters and space heaters. Symptoms of CO poisoning include headaches, rosy cheeks, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and lethargy. If you think you have been exposed to CO poisoning, immediately get some fresh air. To help protect your family from the dangers of CO poisoning, install CO detectors in the bedrooms and near fuel burning appliances in your home. CO poisoning can also occur when a car is left running, especially in winter, when you are trying to keep warm.
Keeping safe in the winter requires some preparation and planning. Make sure to discuss winter hazards with your children. Be extra aware of what your children are doing during the day even if they are not with you. Talk with them about how they can stay warm, dry and safe when playing outside or waiting for the school bus.