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Today's Family Magazine

Effects of cold on the skin

Jan 17, 2017 12:41PM ● By Today's Family
By Jamie Lober

While some view winter as the most beautiful time of year, the one thing that is not a joy of the season is the bitter cold weather.  It is important that families realize that their child being overexposed to the cold can have negative effects.  Dr. Tracy Lim, pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s took the time to discuss some of the most frequently asked questions about the quickly dropping temperatures and your child’s health and safety. 

Q.  What illnesses do you see in the winter and why?
A.  What makes us sick in the winter is that a lot of viruses go around.  This is cold and flu season and the fact that we are all sequestered inside means that we do not have a lot of fresh air which makes the viruses easy to transmit.  Winter viruses transmit through cough and runny nose which are highly contagious.  Another danger is, of course, exposure to the cold weather. 

Q.  Can attire make a difference when it comes to avoiding the winter ailments?
A.  The rule of thumb is that you should dress your child in one layer more than what you would put on for the weather conditions.  If you have sweats on, you do not want to keep the baby in a onesie but put him in something warmer.  Parents are always urged to bundle up their little angels in multiple layers.  We generally do not recommend taking babies outside unless you have to go somewhere. 

Q.  What is the lowest temperature your child should play outside in whether he is at recess or at home in the backyard?
A.  We do not recommend your child to play outside if it is cooler than 10 degrees and that includes wind chill factor.  You want to be mindful of how long you keep him out and have him come in periodically to assess him and let him warm up.  Teach him that if his fingers and toes feel numb that he needs to come inside because that could be an early sign of frostbite.

Q.  Is frost nip a real condition? 
A.  Nip is an early warning sign of frostbite.  Normally the first sign will be numbness on fingers and toes or white patches of skin on the fingers, toes, nose and cheeks.  Those can be reversed quickly by having the child remove the wet clothing, putting him in warm clothes, wrapping him in layers and giving him something warm to drink.

Q.  How do you identify frostbite?
A.  At that point your skin looks shiny and waxy and is usually hard and greyish-yellow in color.  By the time you see blue or purple toes, it is severe and warrants a trip to the emergency department.  You are not going to get frostbite unless the temperature is below freezing which is 32 or if the wind chill factor brings the temperature below 32 you are in danger.  If your child is wet you want to remove clothing and wrap him up as warmly as you can.  You do not want to put direct heat on him because it can warm the skin too quickly, so do not use a hairdryer.  You can soak the fingers or toes in luke warm water slowly.

Q.  What is hypothermia?
A.  It is not too common because of the diligence of our parents.  With mild hypothermia the child may be shivering, have goosebumps or say his hands are numb so you want to get him out of the cold, moving around and drinking a warm beverage to raise his body temperature.  More serious hypothermia has signs where the brain is affected like the child might be drowsy, lethargic or confused and need to go to the emergency department right away.

Q.  Do you see instances of windburn?
A.  It is very common and the best thing to do is to keep the child’s skin as covered as possible.  We recommend hats of course to cover the ears and mittens or gloves.  We do not recommend scarves for the little ones because they can pose a strangulation hazard.  You can moisturize the skin with cream or ointment like petroleum jelly if your child’s skin looks or feels dry and it will provide a protectant to the skin. 

Q.  Can the cold and wind damage the eyes?
A.  The eyes are a vulnerable part of the body and just like any other part, they can be susceptible to the cold.  Some people like to put on sunglasses or goggles to prevent the sun from reflecting the snow.  The eyes can also get dry. 

Q.  Are there any other health and safety precautions for the wintertime?
A.  It is always a good idea to make sure your child is getting enough sleep, proper nutrition, a multivitamin to boost the immune system and maybe a probiotic because your digestive system is part of your immune system.  Good handwashing is the best way to prevent illness.  In the spring and summer you have to worry about helmet safety and pool safety so every season has its own set of challenges.