Doctor: Cold harder on kids than adults

WASHINGTON — This bitter cold winter weather is tough on adults and even tougher on kids.

“Kids aren’t little adults, they will dissipate heat much faster than we will,” says Dr. Erik Schobitz, medical director of the pediatric emergency room at Adventist Health Care Shady Grove Medical Center.

The average preschooler usually weighs between 30 and 40 pounds.

“They don’t have the fat reserves or the muscle reserves to retain heat much like a 200-pound adult would,” Schobitz says.

He says kids also tend to ignore the cold when they are playing — which is why parents have to take extra precautions and step in when they sense trouble.

Children, like adults,  should dress in layers with the outermost layer made of a tightly woven waterproof fabric. Schobitz says a good rule of thumb is “when you think about how many layers you are wearing, add one for your kid.”

Even toddlers can go outside for a while when it is cold, as long as they are properly dressed and supervised.

“They can go out and enjoy the snow, but you need to be out there with them and checking on them very frequently,” he suggests.

Look for early signs of frostbite or hypothermia, which occurs when the body temperature slips below 95.

A big sign of trouble is a shivering kid.

“If they start shivering, you are a bit behind the 8-ball — as soon as you see that, it is time to bring them inside,” Schobitz says.

Warm them gently, immediately put them in dry clothes and give them something warm to eat and drink, Schobitz says. Digesting the extra calories will also prompt their bodies to create some internal heat.

And one more bit of advice from the emergency physician:  When temperatures dip below freezing and the wind kicks up, parents may want to think twice before letting their kids wait for the school bus on a frigid morning.

Schobitz says on days like that, the smartest thing to do is drive them to the bus stop and let them wait in the warm car. That not only mitigates the risk, it creates an opportunity for a little extra parent-child bonding.

“You’ll have extra time to talk to them and try to learn what is going on in their life, so take advantage of it,”  Schobitz says with a smile.

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