Learn the signs of hypothermia in children so that you can act quickly if your child gets too chilly this winter.
With winter swinging into full gear, it’s natural to look forward to engaging in joyful winter activities with your children. Whether it’s cutting down your own Christmas tree, going caroling around your neighborhood, enjoying a day on the ski slopes, or simply frolicking in the snow, there are countless ways to avoid staying cooped up inside all winter.
However, just as a sunny day can contribute to sunburn or dehydration, chilly weather comes with its own set of risks. The most dire potential consequence of excessive exposure to the cold is hypothermia, or dangerously low body temperature.
If you’re a first-time parent or a newcomer to the New England area, it’s vital to learn how hypothermia presents in children — even if you know the signs of hypothermia in adults. Because newborns, infants, and young children have large dermal surface areas relative to their body weights, they’re more likely than adults to develop hypothermia, especially in a cold state like Massachusetts.
Recognizing Hypothermia in Children
Generally speaking, a child is considered hypothermic if their body temperature falls below 97.5 degrees Fahrenheit. A body temperature lower than 96.6 degrees Fahrenheit is classified as moderate hypothermia, while a body temperature lower than 89.6 degrees is classified as severe hypothermia.
Very young children may not be able to communicate their discomfort, so it’s important for parents to remain alert and recognize when their child is getting too cold. Besides a reduced temperature, the signs of hypothermia include an abnormally weak cry, low energy, red skin that’s cold to the touch, and shallow or no breathing.
Older children may demonstrate some of these symptoms as well as some of the symptoms of hypothermia characteristic in adults. These symptoms include shivering, confusion, slurred speech, and poor coordination. Fortunately, older children and teens should be able to alert adults to their condition.
Treating Hypothermia in Children
The single most effective treatment for hypothermia is prevention. There’s no reason to be scared of cold weather, but moderation is key. If you’re spending extended time outdoors, take periodic breaks to go inside and get warmed up. Make sure your child has a warm winter coat, and don’t skimp on the winter accessories — a winter hat and gloves are musts.
If your child is already exhibiting symptoms of hypothermia, get them into a warm environment immediately. Remove any and all wet clothing and replace it with dry, warm clothing and/or blankets. You can also apply warm packs or warm water bottles to your child’s armpits, abdomen, and groin, though check to ensure they’re not too hot.
Take your child’s temperature; if the thermometer returns a number below 89.6 degrees, you should go to the emergency room or call an ambulance. Mild hypothermia is typically treatable at home, though you should always call a medical professional if you’re worried or if your child doesn’t seem to be improving with at-home measures.
If you have further questions about hypothermia in children, or if you’re looking for a new pediatrician, reach out to Kids’ Health. Your premier pediatrician in the Beverly, Massachusetts, area, we’re committed to helping your child reach their best, emotionally, academically, and physically. Contact us today.