Today it was 24ºF out when I dropped my boys off at school. I could tell by looking out the windows that it was below freezing by the thick layer of frost covering every surface. When the weather starts to get this cold, that’s when I break out the winter gear: hats, mittens, winter coats, scarves, boots, and in my case earmuffs. It’s a no-brainer. Cold outside? Wear something warm. We’ve been wearing winter gear for a couple weeks now.
I am appalled and a bit frustrated at the lack of concern over this cold weather from other parents. Each morning I drive to school, I see well over half of the student population in nothing more than a thin sweatshirt. No coats. No mittens or gloves. No hats. Heck, there were kids getting off of the school bus in nothing but a tee shirt! I saw one enterprising youth in a tee shirt with a fleece throw pulled around her shoulders instead of a coat.
So here’s a reminder to all of us living in cold areas. It’s BELOW FREEZING outside right now. Our highs are only getting into the low 40’s, which is just a few degrees above freezing. It’s cold! And on top of the cold, it’s going to be raining and snowing. When you don’t properly dress your child for this kind of weather, you run the risk of exposing your child to hypothermia, frostbite, chilblains, frostnip, and trenchfoot. Among other things.
Hypothermia is when our body dips below acceptable bodily temperatures. Normally, we sit at a cozy 96-100°F. Hypothermia begins when our core body temperature falls to 95°F or lower. It is caused by excessive heat loss due to improper covering of skin exposed to cold and/or wet. While hypothermia just means a drop in temperature, it can come with some horrifying side effects like cold shock. Cold shock is when breathing becomes uncontrolled and rapid, blood pressure increases dramatically, and cardiac strain occurs that may lead to cardiac arrest or panic. Cold incapacitation may also happen. This is when the body becomes so cold that it begins shutting down the peripheral muscles of the limbs in order to protect the core and keep it warm. Blood flow may become restricted to fingers, toes, arms, legs, and the brain.
Which leads us to frostbite and frostnip. Frostbite occurs when blood vessels in a specific area exposed to extreme cold constrict. The reduction in blood flow causes the exposed tissue to freeze, causing itching and minor pain. The skin may develop white, red, and yellow patches. This is the beginning stage of frostbite, known as frostnip. It effects only the epithelial layers of skin, and usually doesn’t cause permanent damage. If left exposed, however, the skin may freeze and harden, causing blisters and blackness within days of occurring. No damage to core tissues has occurred yet at this second stage of frostbite, and recovery is usually full within a month, though parts of the exposed tissue may lose sensitivity to heat and cold afterward. The third and fourth stages of frostbite are the most concerning. This is when muscles, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels freeze. Deep frostbite results in the loss of effected digits, limbs, and effected tissues. It can lead to gangrene and other infections. It’s not pretty, and it’s so easy to prevent with proper protection from the cold.
Chilblains is a medical condition that effects genetically predisposed individuals when they repeatedly expose their tissues to extreme cold. It causes superficial ulcers on the skin, itching, swelling, redness, blistering, and inflammation. The condition is usually treatable with steroids and protective clothing, but it will reoccur if an individual continues to expose their skin to cold temperatures. Not pleasant, folks, and again… totally preventable.
Trench foot, or immersion foot, is when the feet are exposed repeatedly to wet, non-freezing temperatures. Say, a child walking to school in the rain or snow with wet sneakers on day after day. Affected feet may become numb and turn red or blue as a result of poor vascular supply, and feet may begin to have a decaying odour due to the possibility of early stages of necrosis setting in. As the condition worsens, feet may also begin to swell. Advanced trench foot often involves blisters and open sores, which lead to fungal infections; this is sometimes called tropical ulcer or jungle rot. Unlike the previous ailments mentioned, trench foot can take place in temperatures up to 60°F. The condition can occur in as little as 13 hours exposure to wetness. Have you ever stepped in a puddle or wet snow and your shoes were still wet that night? That’s all it takes, and it’s not uncommon for a child to wear the same shoes from early in the morning until late at night. Prevention is easy, however. Give your child a pair of dry, clean shoes to keep at school or in their backpack. Let them wear boots (winter boots, galoshes, hiking boots… whatever) to school, then change into their clean, dry shoes while at school. On the way home, they can wear their boots again, then the boots can dry by a heater overnight to be ready for the next day.
For me, those are some compelling reasons to keep my children dressed warm and dry. It’s my job to protect them, and that includes from cold weather. Please, parents, remember to dress your child appropriately for the weather. If there is ANY reason you are unable to, please get assistance. Don’t let your pride lead you into exposing your child to these horrific cold weather ailments. Many schools have a stock of used coats, hats, and mittens that they are happy to give to families who need them. There are charities and organizations that will give you winter gear at little to no charge. Protect your children from the cold. There’s really no excuse.