Winter weather offers families the chance to enjoy all kinds of fun cold weather activities. Don't let winter keep you in the house, but make sure your kids are prepared to safely enjoy cold weather activities.
According to the CPSC (Consumer Products Safety Commission), there were more than 10,000 sledding, snow tubing, and tobogganing-related injuries treated at hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices, and clinics in 2019. Head injuries are a common and serious type of sledding injury.
Follow these tips from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons to prevent injuries while sledding:
- Make sure children are always supervised by an adult while they are sledding.
- Teach your child to never go down a hill headfirst; they should sit facing forward and steer.
- Use a sled that can steer—it’s safer than flat sheets, toboggans or snow discs.
- Make sure the hill does not have obstacles in the sledding path and does not end near a street, parking lot, pond, or drop off.
- Avoid sledding in public streets.
- Children should wear a fitted helmet while sledding.
- Do not sled on plastic sheets or other objects than can be pierced by objects on the ground (such as rocks).
- Make sure the area is well lit, especially if sledding in the evening.
- Wear warm and layered clothing to protect from injuries and the cold.
Skiing and snowboarding safety
- When shopping for skiwear, purchase fabrics that are water and wind resistant. Clothing should not be loose at the ankles or wrists. Collars that completely cover the neck are also helpful for wind resistance.
- Sun reflecting off snow is surprisingly strong. When you’re skiing or snowboarding in the mountains, your sun exposure is even higher because there’s less atmosphere to block the sun’s rays. Be sure to protect your skin on the slopes.
- Wear eye protection. Sunglasses or goggles with UVA/UBC protection help protect your eyes from the sun and flying objects.
- Be prepared before you hit the slopes by being in good physical condition and taking lessons.
- Use the right equipment: make sure it’s in good condition and fits appropriately.
- Make sure your child knows and follows the National Ski Patrol Responsibility Code.
- Be familiar with skiing and snowboarding safety tips.
- Learn how to dress for winter outdoor recreation.
Ice skating safety
- Skates should fit comfortably and provide ankle support.
- Only skate in designated skating areas where the ice is known to be strong.
- Always check for cracks, holes, and debris on the ice.
- Never skate alone.
- Be familiar with USA Hockey’s Heads-Up, Don't Duck campaign to prevent ice hockey spine injuries.
- Learn some ice hockey safety tips from the AAP.
Frostbite and children
Frostbite is freezing of the skin and tissues below the skin. It occurs when a person is exposed to freezing temperatures for too long. Frostbite is most common on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin.
Symptoms of frostbite include:
- Cold skin with prickly feeling or numbness
- Skin may look red or, in more severe cases, white, bluish or grayish
- Clumsiness due to muscle and joint stiffening
If you think your child has frostbite, call the doctor right away and then begin these steps:
- Bring your child indoors immediately. Do not try to thaw frostbite unless you're able to stay in a warm place (warming and then re-exposing frozen parts to cold can cause permanent damage).
- Take off any wet clothing.
- Warm the frostbitten body parts in warm (not hot) water for about 30 minutes. You can also warm frostbitten parts using body heat. For example, you can hold cold, numb fingers under the armpits.
- Do not use a fireplace, oven, or heating pad to thaw frostbite. Numb skin can get burned by accident.
- Do not rub frostbitten parts—treat them gently.
- Do not break any blisters that may have formed.
- Loosely wrap warmed areas with clean bandages to prevent refreezing.
- Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.
If frostbite symptoms don't get better after taking these steps, get to a hospital as soon as possible.
Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. It can be caused by prolonged exposure to very cold temperatures or even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person is chilled from sweat, rain or submersion in cold water. Babies and the elderly are at the highest risk.
When the body temperature becomes too low, it affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia especially dangerous because a person may not know that it’s happening and won’t be able to do anything about it. For this reason, it is very important to know the symptoms of hypothermia and get treatment quickly. If someone begins to shiver violently, stumble, or can't respond to questions, it may be hypothermia and you need to warm him or her quickly.
Symptoms of hypothermia include:
- For infants, bright red, cold skin, very low energy
- For children and adults, shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, drowsiness
If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95° F, the situation is an emergency so get medical attention immediately.
If you suspect someone has hypothermia:
- Move the person out of the cold. Be gentle, though, as jarring movements can be harmful.
- Remove wet clothing. Cut off clothing if necessary to reduce amount of movement.
- Cover the person with a blanket from head to toe, leaving only the face exposed.
- Do not use direct heat. Do not use hot water, a heating pad or a heating lamp to warm the person. Extreme heat can damage the skin or cause irregular heartbeats.
- Insulate the person's body from the cold ground. If you are outside, lay the person on his or her back on a blanket or other warm surface.
- Provide warm beverages. If the person is alert enough and able to swallow, give a warm, sweetened beverage to help warm the body. Do not give beverages with caffeine or alcohol.
- Monitor breathing. If the person's breathing has stopped or appears dangerously low or shallow, start CPR if you are trained.
- Make dry, warm compresses. Make a compress of warm water in a plastic bottle or a dryer-warmed towel. Apply the compress only to the neck, chest wall, or groin. Do not apply heat to the arms or legs. Heat applied to the arms and legs forces cold blood back toward the heart, lungs, and brain, causing the core body temperature to drop. This can be fatal.
- Hypothermia and cold temperature exposure (MottChildren.org)
- Frostbite information (MottChildren.org)
- Frostbite information en espanol (KidsHealth.org)
- Winter safety tips (American Academy of Pediatrics)
- Winter storm information for families (American Academy of Pediatrics)
- Information about helmets, snow sports safety and kids (Lids on Kids)
- One family’s sledding injury story (Healthblog.UofMHealth.org)
Reviewed by Michael Anacker, MD and Sara Laule, MD
Updated January, 2022