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On Call: Cold-Weather Protection

Q. My child spends hours playing in the snow. What's the best way to dress her to prevent frostbite?

A. Kids can be especially susceptible to frostbite, since they tend to lose heat rapidly from their skin  -- and they often ignore mild discomfort so they can keep playing! Frostbite can occur when children are exposed to temperatures below freezing (and with a wind chill), sometimes in less than an hour.

Make sure your child is dressed in layers, and pay particular attention to keeping fingers, toes, and ears warm and dry (snug hats; waterproof, insulated gloves and boots). The inner layer can be cotton, as long as it doesn't get wet; then an insulating layer of fleece or wool; and a waterproof material for the outer one (windproof, too, is even better).

Have her change any wet layers  -- sweat, not just snow, can make her damp, so you should check more often if she's very active.

The first symptoms of mild frostbite are redness with some burning or tingling. If your child experiences these, get her inside right away  -- and into dry, warm clothes. Otherwise, the frostbite can progress to a more severe stage, in which the skin becomes numb, white, hard, and possibly swollen. If this happens, she'll need immediate medical attention.

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