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 and frostbite occur 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 core body temperature drops below 95°F.  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 cannot 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. Additionally, wet or damp clothing should be removed and replaced with dry clothing and blankets.

Prolonged exposure to dry cold, which is worsened with sweat, can cause frostbite. Frostbite is damage to the skin and underlying tissues caused by cold. It begins as a red, swollen, and painful area and progresses to a cold, hard, numb area that appears gray in color. 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 localized stiffness. An additional sign of frostbite is blisters within 24 hours of cold exposure. 

If your child gets frostbite, remove him/her from the cold environment immediately. It is important to rewarm the area as soon as possible. However, thawing or rewarming should be avoided until there is no chance of refreezing the injured area. Just like for hypothermia, the person should be moved to a warm room, wet clothes should be removed and replaced with dry clothing, warm liquids can be given, and the injured area should be rewarmed in warm (not hot) water. Face and ears can be rewarmed with warm (not hot) washcloths that need replaced as soon as they become cool.  Continue to rewarm the injured part for 30 minutes, until the area turns pink, or the child feels tingling. Pat the area dry. Make sure you do not rub or massage the injured area and do not break any blisters. Transport the child to a medical facility for further evaluation by a physician.

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.
  • Take regular breaks indoors.
  • 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. Lower extremity injuries are more often seen while skiing and upper extremity injuries, in particular falling onto outstretched hand (FOOSH), are more often seen with snowboarding. Head injuries are the most commonly seen injury so a helmet should always be worn, even during sledding.

The following safety tips are recommended for winter sports:

  • Make sure all equipment-such as bindings and boots-fit properly.
  • Ski and snowboard in control and at appropriate levels.  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. 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.
  • All skiers and snowboarders should wear helmets to prevent head injuries from falls and collisions. Helmets are also important to wear when sledding or tubing.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine specializes in diagnosing and treating sports-related injuries in youth, adolescent, and collegiate athletes.  Services are available in multiple locations throughout central Ohio.  To make an appointment, call 614-355-6000 or request an appointment online.