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Preparing Your Family for Winter Weather

You've remembered to winterize your house and your car, but is your family ready? Be sure to prepare your kids and your kitchen for snowy days and long winter nights.

Tips for Playing Outside in Winter

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends dressing infants and children in several thin layers, such as long johns, turtlenecks, one or two shirts, a sweater, warm socks, boots, gloves or mittens, and a coat. Dress children in one more layer than you would wear.

Children who play outside may not notice they are getting too cold or even experiencing hypothermia, the AAP says in its bulletin, "Winter Safety Tips."

This can go for adults, too, says Gregg Boughton, coordinator of the outreach sports medicine program at Gem City Bone & Joint. He's also head athletic trainer at the Laramie City Community College in Wyoming, where it was 20 below zero the day he talked to WebMD. "The first sign of hypothermia is shivering," he says. This means it's time to go inside, he adds.

Adults and children can also get the beginnings of frostbite, which destroys living tissue, without being aware of it. "The first sign is numbness," Boughton says. Skin can appear gray, pale, or blistered along with the numbness, according to the AAP.

Boughton recommends warming slowly -- even in cold water. It will feel warm, he assures. The AAP recommends not rubbing the affected areas. If the numbness persists more than a few minutes, call the doctor.

Other tips from the AAP and Boughton for outdoor winter play:

  • If your child gets winter nosebleeds from dry heated air, get a humidifier. Saline nosedrops can also bring relief. If this persists, consult the doctor.
  • Bathe every other day or every third day, especially in the case of children. Bathing too often can dry skin.
  • Do not drink alcohol outside in cold weather, Boughton urges. "Some skiers bring along some schnapps and make mistakes or don't see they are too chilled."
  • Make sure to stay well hydrated. Cold weather inspires us to drink hot cocoa and coffee, but we still need water, especially with increased physical activity.
  • Also when skiing, unless you have been conditioning, he says, don't head for the Black Diamond slopes. Children especially, the AAP notes, need professional instruction and must have adult supervision. Remember, the real aches and pains show up after 24 hours. You may wake up and not be able to get up, wasting an expensive trip by staying inside the hotel!
  • While outside for long periods, bring a couple of power bars.
  • If anything, dress a little more lightly than you think you should for snowshoeing, Boughton says. "You can work up a great sweat." He also advises wearing fast-drying textiles for all outdoor play. "Gore-tex is the standard."
  • If you have cold-induced asthma, Boughton recommends packing along your inhaler or taking a puff or two before you leave.
  • Is there sun glaring on the snow? It can be intense! Wear sunblock in winter as well as summer.
  • If you snowmobile, never go alone and never pull anyone, the AAP says. Stay on marked trails and travel at safe speeds.
  • Never play outside after dark. "It's getting dark earlier," Boughton notes. "Be home."
  • If a snowy driveway is awaiting you at home, remember all those shoveling-induced heart attacks that happen every year. More scoops, lighter loads.

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