Winter Weather Advisory

Winter is here, bringing with it injuries unique to cold weather sports.   Two of the more common categories of injuries are those influenced by environmental conditions and accidents.  Hypothermia or even frostbite occurs from prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Statistics show head injuries and broken bones to be the two most common injuries from winter sports-both can be serious or even life threatening.  Many of these injuries are preventable if some simple precautions are taken.

Environmental Concerns

Hypothermia is a condition that occurs when body temperature drops 4 degrees or more below normal (97.2 to 99.5).  When body temperature drops significantly, the body's metabolism slows down, increasing the risk of severe injury from freezing.  Hypothermia is more likely to occur when body temperature remains low for more than a few hours.

Younger children are more susceptible to hypothermia.  Children use up energy reserves more quickly and can not maintain an even body temperature as well as adults in cold weather. 

Hypothermia is an emergency situation.  Call 911 immediately to get emergency medical help.  Victims of hypothermia must be warmed slowly.  The person can be placed in a warm room or warm (not hot) bath and be given warm (not hot) fluids to drink.

Prolonged exposure to dry cold can cause frostbite.  Frostbite is damage to the skin and underlying tissues caused by cold.  It begins as a red and painful area and progresses to a cold, hard, numb area.  Frostbite occurs more often on small, exposed areas of the body such as hands, fingers, feet, toes, ears, nose and cheeks.  Parents can spot early signs of frostbite by looking for skin that is unusually pale and/or cold and dry.  A child might also experience a burning or aching feeling and may see swelling.  An additional sign of frostbite is blisters within 24 hours of cold exposure.

If your child gets frostbite, make sure you do not rub or massage the injured area.  Fill a sink with warm water and put the injured area in the water for 30 minutes or until it turns pink.  Then gently pat dry the area and keep it warm and clean.  Do not break any blisters.  To rewarm the face and ears, apply warm washcloths and replace them as they get cool.  You should also give a child warm liquids to drink.  If any area of the child's body begins to feel tingling, contact your doctor immediately.

Hypothermia and frostbite can be prevented by taking a few precautions:

  • Wear several layers of warm, breathable clothing.
  • Wear a waterproof and windproof outer layer.
  • Cover your head and neck to retain body heat.
  • Try to stay as dry as possible.
  • Put Vaseline on exposed areas (nose, cheeks, ears, etc.) to protect from wind-chill.
  • Have emergency supplies such as blankets and extra clothing nearby if needed.

Accidents Can Happen...

During the winter months, many teens participate in sports such as skiing and snowboarding.  These activities are fun, but can be dangerous and precautions should be taken. 

The following safety tips are recommended for winter sports:

  • All skiers and snowboarders should wear helmets to prevent head injuries from falls and collisions.  Helmets are also important when sledding or tubing.
  • Make sure all equipment-such as bindings and boots-fit properly.
  • Ski and snowboard in control and be aware of the rules of the slope.
  • Get in shape for winter sports.  Being prepared for rigorous activity will help prevent injuries.
  • Wear warm, close fitting clothing.  Loose clothing can get tangled in lifts, towropes or ski poles.  Also, be sure to wear insulated gloves and boots.
  • Never ski or snowboard alone.  Make sure you have at least one partner so someone is there if you get hurt.

Consult your primary care physician for more serious injuries that do not respond to basic first aid. As an added resource, the staff at Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine is available to diagnose and treat sports-related injuries for youth or adolescent athletes. Services are now available in five locations. To make an appointment, call (614) 355-6000 or request an appointment online.