Sledding, Snowmen, and Snow Ball Fights – Avoiding Frostbite

Four little snowpeople stomped up to my front door this morning.  Bundled in coats, gloves, and neckwarmers , they could barely see as adorable fuzzy hats with pom-poms slid down over their eyes.

“Mommy!  We’re co-o-o-ld!  Can we come inside?” they pleaded.  Their teeth chattered and they shivered.

I think they had been outside for about five minutes… maybe six.

That was after one hour of begging to go outside as soon as they saw the new snowfall on the ground, twenty minutes of breakfast while still asking to go outside, and another twenty minutes of going potty and getting dressed while I tried frantically to find four matching set of gloves.  (I think that gloves and socks have conspired to hang out together somewhere – where do they go?)

I remember playing outside for hours as a kid in the snow – with no care about the potential frostbite starting on my fingers and ears and nose.  What’s wrong with my kids?  Maybe they are just smarter than I was.  It's cold out there!

Keep your kids warm in the snow.  It’s fun – but can be dangerous.  Children are at higher risk for frostbite compared to adults.  They lose heat more easily than adults and are not as willing to give up having fun even if they are cold.

Frostbite is the result of prolonged cold exposure to our bodies.  This causes damage to the tissues.  Our fingers, toes, noses and ears are the most susceptible. 

There are different degrees of severity of frostbite.   First degree, or frostnip, is when the surface of the skin is frozen.  The skin has white, red, and yellow patches and often there is itching and pain and numbness.  Usually the injury is not permanent.

Second degree frostbite is more severe.  The skin is actually frozen and hard.  This can result in blisters a few days after the injury and can take weeks to months to heal .  Call your doctor or take your child to the nearest emergency room if this occurs.

Third and fourth degrees are much more severe and involve freezing of the muscles and deep tissues.  Your child should not be at risk for this unless they are trapped in the cold for a very long period of time.

If your child is complaining of pain, itching or numbness of fingers, toes, ears or nose after playing in the cold, remove all wet clothing.  Rewarm the area as quickly as possible without burning the skin.  Soak the body part in warm (not hot) water for 20-30 minutes.  The water temperature should be around 104 degrees F.    If the pain does not improve and the color does not return to normal within a few minutes, call your doctor immediately.

Dehydration is also an issue because in the cold, children do not realize that they are sweating and losing fluids.  Give your child fluids to drink (non-caffeinated).  A good rule of thumb is to have your child come in every one to two hours for a break to drink, eat a snack and warm up. 

Every year, over 20,000 kids are injured in sledding accidents.  Children between the ages of 10-14 years old are the most commonly injured.   Next most commonly injured are children ages 5-9 years.  Fractures and head injuries are the most common type of injury.  Running into trees, poles, stationary obstacles are the usual sources of injury.  Wearing a helmet is recommended.  At the very least, scope out where your children are sledding to make sure that it is free of dangerous obstacles.  Make sure that they are not sledding into streets where cars may hit them.  Do not allow your children to be pulled on sleds by ATVs, snowmobiles, or other motorized vehicles.