Doctors’ Notes


Winter Warmth & Safety

It’s almost that time again… the most wonderful time of the year… Winter!

But that doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors for the next 4 months. (Who are we kidding? It’s Pittsburgh… it may be 6 months!) Dressing right for winter can prevent cold-induced injuries and help us all to enjoy the winter months.


Starting with our older kids: multiple thin layers can be helpful, especially when heading off to school. Kids can stay nice and warm while waiting for the bus, then shed layers as the day warms up. When playing or enjoying the outdoors, a hat and gloves are a welcome addition. Because most heat is lost through your head, adding a hat can keep you much warmer. And don’t forget the sunscreen and chapstick; the sun’s rays can still cause damage to the skin, especially when reflected off snow, and wind and sun can cause chapped lips.


Younger kids are more susceptible to cold injury, so a good rule of thumb when dressing an infant or young child is to add one layer to what you would be comfortable wearing for the conditions. With bulkier clothing, and with the addition of that extra layer for young children, car seat safety becomes even more important this time of year. You want to make sure car seat straps are still fitting snugly, and that nothing bulky is placed underneath the child. (The extra bulk, usually from coats, can create “wiggle” room in the straps, which decreases the safety of the car seat restraints.) One way to avoid this is by strapping your child into the car seat in regular winter clothing, then placing a thick blanket (or the coat itself) on top of the straps and the child. You can even try to turn the coat around and place the arms through after securing your child. For warmth when sleeping, thick, plush blankets are not recommended in the crib, because they can increases the risk for SIDS. A one-piece sleeper with light blanket (if necessary) is safer.


When kids are playing outside in the cold for a long time, one thing to watch out for is possible hypothermia. Hypothermia is a state when body temperature drops well below normal. Signs of hypothermia include slurred speech, becoming extremely lethargic, or just seeming “out of it.” If you suspect your child is suffering from hypothermia, get all cold and wet clothes off his body, wrap him in a warm blanket, and call 911 immediately.


Frostbite is another cold injury to consider. If an extremity gets too cold, blood circulation stops, creating numbness, tingling, loss of color (a grayish look) and pain. Most commonly affected are fingers, toes, nose, and ear lobes.  The extremity should be warmed slowly by placing in warm (NOT hot) water. If numbness lasts more than a few minutes, call us.


If you’re staying inside, consider space heater and fire safety. When purchasing a space heater, look for one that has been tested and labeled by a national testing company. Keep the heater 3 feet from curtains, furniture, and other flammable items. Never leave a space heater unattended or on while you sleep. Keep them out of reach of small children that could burn themselves or pull the heater onto themselves. Since the majority of fires occur during the winter, it’s a good time to double-check smoke detectors and batteries (if you didn’t already do it during the switch from daylight savings!)


Another thought during the winter months is the dryness in the air. You may want to consider a humidifier for an infant, child, or even adult bedroom, as well as regular use of moisturizers to prevent dry, cracked, or itchy skin. (see Dr. Pai’s note on Eczema). Nosebleeds can also get worse in the winter; a humidifier, with a little Vaseline at the nostrils, can help.

Now you have some helpful hints to survive winter — so when the cold weather comes, your kids and get out there and enjoy ice skating, skiing, sledding, snowball fights, and snowman building safely! 

Stacey Stratton, a Kids Plus Provider, is a certified Physician Assistant.