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Winter Health

Avoid a few cold weather dangers to keep your family safe and healthy

Winter Health
December 2013

Old man winter brings his own set of risks with him each year. However, with knowledge and precautions, parents can help their children keep illness and injury at bay.

Don't let colds take hold

Colds and the flu inevitably follow winter's arrival. The age-old advice to wash hands frequently is shared year after year for a reason – it works. You can help limit the spread of viruses by reminding children (and adults!) to wash their hands before and after meals, after sneezing and using the restroom.

Despite these precautions, some children will catch a cold virus. The best way to keep your child from infecting others is to keep him home from school until he is free of a fever and vomiting for at least 24 hours. Until then, comfort your child at home. Ensure he gets plenty of fluids, rest and care. If your child has difficulty breathing, isn't able to drink or has a fever that stays above 101.5 degrees, it's probably best to see the doctor.

Winter-proof skin

Cold air can take a toll on skin. Use a heavy moisturizer to protect and treat your child's skin. And, while it's easier to remember to use sunscreen in the summer, it's needed on exposed skin in the winter too. Use lip balm with sunscreen on your child to help prevent dry, chapped lips. Placing a humidifier in your child's bedroom – particularly if he is susceptible to winter nosebleeds – will also help moisturize skin.

Ready, set, get active

Make sure your child is dressed appropriately when playing outside – with several layers of loose-fitting clothes under a coat with gloves, hat and slip-resistant footwear. While it's good to remain physically active even when it's cold outside, it's important to take regular breaks inside to warm up and rest. Injuries are more likely to happen as children get tired.

If your child is sledding, make sure he is using a proper sled that can be steered. Do not use makeshift sleds such as a plastic bag or garbage can lid. Never use a snowmobile or car to pull a sled. However, sometimes it's simply too cold to play outside. Think of ways to keep children active indoors. How about designing a scavenger hunt, an obstacle course or a dance contest? YMCAs or indoor playgrounds are also great places to burn off energy.

Fire safety: Prepare, practice and prevent the unthinkable

The risk of a house fire increases in the winter. Make sure you have smoke alarms on each floor of your home and in every bedroom. Test the alarms regularly and replace batteries once a year.

Be mindful of the dangers of a space heater. Ensure space heaters are at least three feet from furniture, curtains or bedding. Unplug them when you leave the room or go to bed. If you use a fireplace, make sure it has an attached screen. And, don't overload electrical outlets with holiday decorations and keep the Christmas tree away from all heat sources.

Finally, make sure your family has a fire safety plan. Participate in a practice fire drill so that all family members know what to do and where to meet outside.

While there are many winter safety tips, these are a few – all meant to keep your family healthy and happy while we await warmer, longer days to return again.

For more information visit www.rileyhospital.org

Michele Saysana, M.D., is a pediatric hospitalist and the medical director of quality and safety at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.

Tags: Health, In This Issue

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