Winter is here, temperatures have dropped significantly and it has become very cold. Although winter gives most families the opportunity to enjoy and play in cold weather, but this change of season poses several health risks especially for young children. So, certain precautions have to be followed before going out in the cold.
Children are more prone to heat loss in cold climate. Children exposed to extreme cold for too long without warm dry breathable clothing can get frostbite or even life threatening hypothermia. They are also at an increased risk of exercise induced asthma.
Cold exposure in children causes specific acute and chronic physiological responses. Acute physiological responses include shivering that reduces heat loss and increases heat production. The physiological response to chronic cold exposure also known as acclimatisation means a person living in the cold temperature for a long period of time gets adjusted to the climate.
When the body temperature drops below normal, a dangerous hypothermia can be caused in the child. When a child starts to shiver, its a sign that the body is trying to warm itself up, eventually he become sluggish, clumsy and loses consciousness.
Frostbite can occur when the skin and outer tissue become frozen. This can happen on exposed part like fingers,toes ear and nose. Frostbite is a serious problem that can even lead to damage and loss of limbs.
There are a few common questions that parents may ask regarding their children and their care during winter seasons.
Q. Why do children get more sick in the winter?
A. It's actually a myth that cold weather makes you sick but it's not true. Being cold does not cause illness but when it's colder outside children tend to pass more. Some viruses can thrive and spread better in the cooler and less humid air leading to increase in vital infections. Nasal mucus becomes drier and stickier during the winter months which can increase the spread of virus. Some common illnesses during winter can be flu, respiratory syncytial virus infections, which causes bronchiolitis, common cold, sore throat and stomach flu.
Q. How to prevent children from getting sick in winters?
A. ? Wash hands frequently cover mouth while sneezing.
? Eat plenty of healthy and nutritious food like nuts, berries, warm soups and warm drinks.
? Stay-at-home if not feeling well to prevent from spreading the infection.
? At the end most of children with asthma should be covered with surgical mask or cloth to prevent exercise induced asthma on exposure to cold air. Each children should be advised to reduce the intensity of outdoor exertion on cold days.
? Children should be vaccinated up-to-date including with the flu vaccine.
? Use sunscreen when outside ,snow reflects sunlight onto the face therefore it is required. Even if it is cloudy sunscreen still is necessary as UV rays can affect your skin.
? Encourage children to play indoors. Invent new games , spend time with them and make them feel active even while indoors.
? Sleep deprivation can cause severe effects on your child's immune system. Ensure child is getting adequate sleep for at least 8 hours every night.
Winters can be fun for you and your child especially if they spend time in a healthy and productive way. Encourage the child for a variety of safe indoor and outdoor activities. And make sure you follow all the above tips that contribute to your child's overall health and keep the child active and save during the winter season.
Dr Sana Salim Khan
Assistant Professor, Pediatrics
Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi.