Dressing up for winter weather
Commentary by Aaron Ashabraner, M.D.
If you live in Indiana, there’s little doubt your family will brave cold winter temperatures before spring arrives. Dressing appropriately for cold weather is essential to avoid frostbite and hypothermia, especially if you plan to be outdoors for longer periods of time. Here are some tips to help you stay warm and healthy this season.
• Although people talk about losing body heat through the head, heat is actually lost from any body part that’s exposed to the elements. It’s a good idea to wear a hat, but remember to keep your entire body covered to conserve heat. Hats and hoods are particularly important for children, who do lose more heat through their heads. That’s because the surface area ratio of a child’s head relative to his body is much greater.
• If you exercise in the cold or enjoy being outside in the snow, dress in layers. It’s best to wear polypropylene or capilene next to the skin because these synthetic fibers pull water away from the body. Cotton should never be worn as an insulator. Cotton, when wet, pulls heat away from the body much faster than other fabrics. A knit middle layer is recommended (which can be removed if you get too warm) and then add a synthetic outer layer.
• Remember that children are particularly vulnerable to cold temperatures because their smaller bodies don’t have the capacity to hold as much energy in reserve to burn when it’s cold. When dressing children for colder temperatures, in addition to the tips above, take care to adequately cover and insulate all exposed body parts, including the ears, nose, hands and feet. This will help keep children warm and avoid frostbite.
When children are playing outdoors in the cold and snow, be sure they take frequent breaks indoors to warm up. Remove wet clothing as soon as they come inside.
Finally, while dressing warmly in winter is important, it won’t help you avoid a cold or the flu. If you haven’t been exposed to a virus, exposure to cold weather alone won’t increase your chances of developing these illnesses.
Aaron Ashabraner, MD, specializes in family medicine. He is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Primary Care, 11725 N. Illinois St., Suite 595, Carmel. He can be reached by calling the office at 688-5522.