Winter is upon us – along with safety threats for both adults and children from the frosty realities of cold tempratures, accumulating snow and slippery ice. “People should mind the weather but also know their capabilities and realize that conditions can change quickly,” says physical therapist assistant Lauren DiLisio with LVHN Rehabilitation, Health & Wellness Center at Hazleton in Hazle Township. That’s true for everyone, but “children need additional protection in specific ways,” says Sarah Jones Sapienza, MD, medical director of Pediatric Trauma Services at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital. Here are steps to help ensure safety at every age.
Scope out play areas
Going sledding? Make sure slopes don’t have solid obstacles like trees or rocks, or end on a road. “Forbid playing on streets,” Sapienza says. “Snowbanks limit visibility, and ice can make it harder for cars to stop.”
Insist on helmets
Protective headwear is a must for any child on skis or a snowboard. “They should also be instructed before hitting the slopes, ideally by a trained instructor but at minimum by a knowledgeable family member or friend,” Sapienza says.
Beware hoodie hazards
Hood strings and scarves can become noose-like strangulation hazards. “Tuck strings down the garment neck or outfit kids with a contained garment like a balaclava (ski mask),” Sapienza says.
Before shoveling, warm up muscles with light activity and stretches to help prevent strains. Don’t rush. “Instead, take breaks every 10 minutes to avoid fatigue and injuries due to poor form,” says physical therapist Devin Jepson, DPT, with Rehabilitation Services–One City Center. Push snow instead of lifting whenever possible. When you do lift, scoop light loads, lift with your legs and throw using your feet to turn your entire body rather than twisting your spine.
Make nice with ice
“Often, people don’t realize they’re walking on ice,” says outpatient physical therapist Joshua Brennan, DPT, with LVHN Rehabilitation Services–Mountain Healthcare Center at Tobyhanna. Look carefully where you tread, especially on mixed wetand-dry surfaces. “Puddles that look completely melted often have ice under the water,” Brennan says. Take short steps to keep your center of gravity close to your body, and use a waddling, penguin-like gait, which is more stable than a frontto-back stride. Wear shoes with good traction or slip a pair of stretchy cleat straps (available from sporting goods retailers) over footwear.
Carry sunscreen and water
“Kids (and adults) can still get sunburned in winter,” Sapienza says. Apply sunscreen on exposed areas and reapply according to label directions. Keep children hydrated, as cold, dry air saps body moisture even though cool temps may prevent youngsters from noticing they’re sweating.
Prevent frostbite and hypothermia
“Red and tingling fingers indicate that if they stay outside, ice crystals may form in cells and cause irreversible damage,” Sapienza says. Shivering, especially in wet clothes, signals difficulty maintaining core body temperature. Get kids indoors before they become any colder. If kids slur speech or seem clumsy, call 911.
Drive to survive
“I often see people wearing a light jacket in the car, thinking they’ll just dash in when they arrive,” says DiLisio. “But in our area, you could get stranded when conditions suddenly change.” Dress for cold even when conditions seem tame and keep your car stocked with warm blankets, water and food. Keep your fuel tank filled: “Running your car will be your only source of heat if you get stranded,” DiLisio says.
When in doubt, have a video visit
If you or a child have a minor injury or illness, medical help may be a click away – useful if travel is hazardous or you’d rather stay home. Schedule an LVHN Video Visit through MyLVHN and have your video visit via smartphone. With a video visit, you can get help for minor illnesses like coughs, cold or flu, ear pain, rashes, and muscle strains and sprains. Learn more at LVHN.org/videovisits.