By: Warren Seigel, M.D., NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island Chairman of Pediatrics
Parents, pay special attention to the winter months. Children are at particular risk for harm when the temperature drops. By planning ahead for winter weather, we can make sure the littlest New Yorkers have all that they need to stay safe and warm until spring.
Children should be dressed in layers to decrease the amount of heat lost from their bodies. It’s also important for their heads to be covered with hats or coats with hoods. Water-resistant gloves, two pairs of socks, and lined boots with a drawstring to keep the snow out are must haves. Children’s boots should have tread on the bottom to prevent falls on the snow and ice. During extreme wind chill, exposed skin can freeze within a few minutes, causing pain, numbness, and discoloration. If this happens, soak the body part in warm (not hot) water, and seek medical attention immediately. Keep infants inside, if possible, when the temperature drops below 40 degrees.
Playing in fresh snow is a fun highlight of growing up in New York City. Throwing snowballs may bring joy, but make sure that your child knows to aim for his/her opponent’s body and not the head, which can lead to serious injury, especially if there are bits of rock or ice in the snow. It’s best not to touch metal playground equipment with bare skin because this can cause frostbite.
In Your Home
Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home. Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas that you cannot see or smell. Buildup of this gas from fuel-burning appliances that are not working properly can lead to flu-like symptoms, including headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness. Prolonged exposure can kill. The only defense is a detector with fresh batteries.
The improper use of space heaters, stoves, and ovens contributes to many deadly household fires. Be sure to keep young children away from space heaters, especially if they are wearing clothes that can be easily ignited. NEVER use a stove or oven to heat your home!
Cough, Cold, and Flu Symptoms
Have plenty of your favorite over-the-counter medications on hand, just in case. Most medications that children need for run-of-the-mill cold or flu symptoms can be purchased without a prescription.
Decrease your child’s chances of getting sick by doing a few basic things:
- Wash your and your child’s hands frequently. This is the best way to stay well.
- Encourage children to keep their hands off their face. Rubbing eyes and nose can spread the cold virus directly into mucous membranes.
- Keep a safe distance from “sneezers.” Flu viruses are spread through the air, so remind children not to get too close to people who are coughing and sneezing.
- Don’t overdose on vitamins! Although vitamins and minerals are important and helpful in maintaining good health, studies show that ingesting large amounts of vitamins can be harmful.
Avoid Cabin Fever
Be creative on really cold days when the weather is so bad that your child cannot go to school or play outside. Read a book together, or share stories from your childhood. Look through a family photo album, or do puzzles together in order to make the time go by quickly.
And remember, spring is just around the corner!
This article is part of a series about resources available to residents at NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island.