Exposure to cold and snow can put your child in deadly peril. Learn how the dangers of winter weather can quietly creep up on your son or daughter.

Hypothermia Isn’t the Only Danger for Your Child During Winter Play

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“No School Today!”

Cold weather risks to childrenSometimes, it seems as if nothing brings as much joy to a child as a day without school. Unexpected cancellations because of snow or heavy fog are delightful surprises; but having several days off in a row due to a scheduled break is even better.

For 2017, Seattle Public Schools has scheduled its mid-winter break from February 20 through February 24, and many other nearby communities have breaks set for about the same time. But a week without school for kids can be a difficult time for parents. It’s not uncommon for an exasperated mom or dad to shoo the children outdoors to play.

But a parent’s respite can be a dangerous time for the kids. Cold temperatures can cause serious injuries before a child even knows he’s in trouble, and winter weather has a number of other potential deadly hazards for the young. As a parent, you should know about the risks your children may face so you can teach them safe behavior.

Hypothermia and Frostbite

Hypothermia means a dramatic drop in body temperature caused when the body loses heat faster than it can be recovered. Dropping body temperature causes immediate problems for all your child’s body systems. Changes in the nervous system can alter thinking—making it impossible for a child to realize he’s in trouble—and can lead to unconsciousness. The heart and lungs will no longer function as effectively as they should. If heat loss continues, the body’s organs begin to shut down, and the person may die without emergency care to restore normal temperature.

Hypothermia can develop even when the outdoor temperature isn’t extreme, even in the 40s or low 50s. Falling rain or snow can make body temperatures drop faster. Young children, in particular, may lack the judgment to remain bundled up against the cold; a common pattern is that a youngster may feel warm after a short period of outdoor play in the snow and take off his coat.

Frostbite is a related hazard of hypothermia. It develops when body tissue freezes, and therefore can only happen when the outdoor temperature is 32 degrees or below. But frostbite can happen even when the child’s core body temperature remains warm, because the early stages of hypothermia cut off the flow of blood to the extremities. Those extremities—fingers and toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose—are the most vulnerable to freezing, but frostbite can affect parts of the child’s body that aren’t exposed. The skin will redden and then turn hard and pale.

First aid can be effective in treating minor cases of “frostnip,” but emergency medical care is recommended for any moderate to severe injuries. Frostbite can cause lasting muscle and nerve damage and may require amputation.

Children playing outdoors in cold weather should wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing, hats, coats, and gloves or mittens. An adult should monitor outdoor play and regularly check for shivering, chills, and normal color in hands and feet.

Other Serious Risks From Playing in Winter Weather

Parents need to be alert to these other serious hazards:

  • Slip and fall accidents. Snow, ice, and slush present plenty of opportunities for a young child to slip and fall down. The outcome can range from mild pain and bruises to broken bones, sprained joints, and traumatic brain injuries.
  • Breathing problems. Cold air itself can be a trigger for some children with asthma. The risks can be more intense with vigorous play or exposure to traffic exhaust.
  • Traffic accidents. Even adult pedestrians are at risk from traffic in residential neighborhoods. Children—smaller, harder to spot, and apt to hide in snowdrifts—are in greater danger when playing unsupervised in winter. Add in the difficulties for drivers to control their vehicles on slick streets and to see clearly through snow showers, and it becomes clear that cars and trucks are extremely hazardous to children at play.
  • Dangerous stationary objects. When snow blankets the landscape, kids want to explore beyond their home turf. A lone child can easily get in trouble when playing with an abandoned shopping cart or old barrel that could fall on top of him or confine him, when investigating trash containers or abandoned buildings, or even traipsing about a neighborhood playground that is not maintained in winter.

Keeping Your Child Safe in Winter

Exercise in the fresh air is healthy and stimulating for young people. A break in the school term shouldn’t mean a vacation from physical activity. Encourage your children to play safely out-of-doors in the winter, but make sure they have adult supervision appropriate for their ages.

Often, winter accidents involving children would have been completely avoidable if adults had taken proper care. If your child was injured because a landowner didn’t remove a hazard from his property, because a driver failed to control his vehicle, or because other negligent behavior caused an accident, you should get appropriate medical care. Afterward, contact attorney Andrew Kim at 1.800.636.3676 to schedule a FREE, no-obligation consultation. We’ll give you our best advice on getting the compensation your child deserves.

Category: Kids Safety, Children Injuries and Accidents


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