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Children's Hospital offers winter safety tips

Sledding, skating, skiing, snowboarding and building a snowman are all wonderful ways to spend a cold winter afternoon. But it's important for parents to make sure their children take simple precautions.

"While most injuries happen in the summer, winter has its own risks," said Linda Arnold, MD, attending physician in the Yale New Haven Children's Hospital emergency department. "Parents can head off injuries by not letting their kids take on more than they can handle and making sure they are properly supervised."

Dr. Arnold advises that parents pay attention to the following safety guidelines:

  • Make sure children are always supervised when participating in sports that require special skills, such as ice skating and skiing. Assess their experience so they don't exceed their level of competency, and provide lessons if they need them.
  • Dress children carefully in layers, with a waterproof layer on top. Anyone who is outdoors for long periods should always cover their faces and extremities to avoid frostbite.
  • Avoid scarves and loose drawstrings that can get caught, posing the danger of strangulation. Avoid tight clothing, which can restrict circulation and increase danger of frostbite.
  • Helmets are an important protection against head injuries for children who are skiing, sledding and ice skating. Novices and young children are wise to wear helmets while they are learning a sport.
  • Check equipment and gear to make sure it is sturdy and safe. Never use makeshift gear, such as sleds made from garbage-can lids or plastic bags. Check to see if hand-me downs such as ice skates, boots or helmets are the right fit.
  • Teach ice hockey players to avoid intentional body contact or "checking," which involves using the body to block an opposing player. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting checking in hockey players 15 years of age and younger to reduce injuries.
  • For certain activities, such as ice hockey or backwoods skiing, it may be wise to have an adult or professional on hand who has experience in handling injuries.
  • Apply sunscreen and lip balm with a minimum SPF of 15 to protect children from UV rays, which are more intense on the ski slope and reflect off of bright snow.
  • Know the symptoms and treatments for overexposure. Seek medical attention immediately if you observe symptoms of hypothermia including excessive complaints about the cold, impaired or slurred speech or vision, clumsy movement and uncontrollable shivering. Frostbite usually starts with numbness or itching and prickly pain, and progresses to grey or yellowish patches especially on the fingers, toes, face, ears. Suspect snow blindness when a child's eyes are sensitive to light, and they complain of pain in eyes or forehead and a gritty feeling in the eyes.
  • Keep up with the weather reports. If the forecast warns of extremely low temperatures, severe wind chill or a major blizzard, stay indoors.

Yale New Haven Hospital (YNHH), part of Yale New Haven Health, is a nationally recognized, 1,541-bed, not-for-profit hospital serving as the primary teaching hospital for the Yale School of Medicine (YSM). Founded as the fourth voluntary hospital in the U.S. in 1826, today, YNHH has two New Haven-based campuses, and also includes Yale New Haven Children's Hospital, Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital and Smilow Cancer Hospital. YNHH has received Magnet designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, the nation’s highest honor of nursing excellence. YNHH has a combined medical staff of about 4,500 university and community physicians practicing in more than 100 specialties.