Dressing in layers will help ward off icy bite of winter's temperatures

Posted: Monday, October 20, 2003

It's time to break the gloves, galoshes and heavy garments out of mothballs.

While dressing properly in cold weather seems a no-brainer for adults, it's always a good idea to make sure children are dressed warmly as they head out the door to school or play. Here are a few handy tips for ensuring an enjoyable and toasty outdoor wintertime experience.

First, listen to the radio or watch television weather reports. Forewarned is forearmed. A relatively balmy 40 degrees in the morning could be an icy adventure by afternoon.

Be aware of the wind-chill factor. The air may be comfortably brisk temperature-wise, but if it's blowing 20 miles per hour, it's a lot colder than it looks. According to a newly revised wind-chill formula used by the National Weather Service since 2001, 30-degree Fahrenheit air at 5 mph is really 25 degrees to the skin; at 10 mph, 21 degrees; and at 20 mph, a frigid 17 degrees.

If it's already cold say 10 degrees a 20-mph wind will drop the temperature to minus 9. Fun, huh? Keep that in mind when your bombing downhill at Alyeska.

Staying warm against winter's meanness isn't hard. Dress in layers. It's better to take something off but have it handy than to be stuck without it when you really need it.

Wear a hat. The surface area atop our heads may not rival that of our bellies, but most of the heat we lose escapes above the brain. It's amazing how many of us wouldn't dream of baring our bellybuttons to a winter breeze, yet leave our manes flapping in the wind.

Teach the little ones to come in when they get too cold. Chilly as they may be at times, children having a good time will often ignore nature's warnings and stay outdoors long after an adult would have retired to a toddy in front of the hearth. Adults need to stay alert to any signs of cold in their children.

The Mayo Clinic recommends that the neck, head and as much of the face as possible be covered. Children lose heat more quickly than adults and lose most of it from those body locations. Avoid frost nip to the lips with a simple coating of petroleum jelly. If a child's lips are already chapped, the clinic recommends against using medicated lip-aid products.

Another bit of good advice from the clinic for all ages is to use a sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) on those bright, sunny days. Ultravio-let light reflecting off all that beautiful white stuff can cause sunburn, even when the temperature is below freezing.

Keep ears and hands covered. Children should wear mittens because fingers in close proximity tend to keep each other warmer. Make sure to wear waterproof boots. Nothing robs heat like wet feet.

We've all watched children head out to play in the snow so bundled up they look like the Michelin Man, though perhaps more colorful. There are ways for youngsters and adults to be shielded from the cold, while still being able to move.

Outer layers of cotton, wool or fleece are best at warding off the cold. Some light inner garments, like polypropylene-based long johns, can provide significant warmth with the added benefit of wicking perspiration away from the skin surface an important element of staying warm is staying dry. When buying new winter gear, check the weather ratings on the labels of clothing and waterproof products.

We all know that sometimes the cold can take a toll. A little pre-winter reading may prove useful.

Bone up on the warning signs of frostbite a condition caused by exposure to extreme cold in which the skin or tissue below the skin freezes, damaging cells. Like burns, it comes in degrees of severity.

First-degree frostbite can numb the skin, but tissue underneath will remain warm and soft. The area may turn whitish, but no permanent damage would be expected.

Second-degree frostbite has a similar look, but the area may feel hard. Blistering may occur. Medical attention is needed.

Third-degree frostbite, like its burn counterpart, is a severe injury. The skin may be white and blotchy. It may turn blue and will be frozen hard. If the condition is present over a large enough area, the damage can be deadly. Blistering will occur. Amputation is sometimes necessary. Medical attention is a must.

Be aware of another potentially deadly condition called hypothermia, a physical condition caused by loss of body heat.

According to the Mayo Clinic, sufferers may not even know they are becoming hypothermic, but the symptoms would be recognizable to others. People going into hypothermia may seem lethargic and apathetic. They may become drowsy and confused, lose coordination and exhibit slurred speech. The skin may become pale and cold to the touch. A body may shiver uncontrollably, even go into shock.

A core body temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit is a key indicator. So is what the clinic called "the umbles" that is, mumbling, stumbling, fumbling and grumbling all signs of a loss of motor coordination and changes in the level of consciousness.

Not surprisingly, hypothermia is easy to avoid simply by dressing appropriately and using common sense when dealing with the cold. For instance, play where warm shelter is nearby. That's important for anyone, but especially for children.

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