Why Keeping Your Child Warm Is Important
December 3, 2017
Do you often find yourself fighting with your kids to put a coat on? As much as this can be a struggle, it’s important to keep fighting. While the reasoning is unclear, children are less likely to recognize when their body temperature is changing. Additionally, their small stature and hopefully great circulation means that they lose body heat very quickly.
We know that we must keep our kids—and ourselves—warm. What many people don’t know is why. The effects of cold weather go beyond the feelings of numbness we may develop. Coincidentally, a shiver serves almost the same purpose as a fever. It’s a warning from our body that we’ve gotten too cold, and bad things will happen. In this article, we’ll go over what those bad things are, why kids are especially susceptible, and other things you may want to know about staying warm.
Why staying warm is important
Your mother probably told you often to stay inside growing up, citing “you’ll catch pneumonia” as the reason. It’s likely you’ve echoed this to your own child. This sentiment, older than the science behind it, remains true. When our body is cold, it pumps extra blood to vital organs to stay warm. This survival tactic works well, but does come at a cost. If you notice your fingers, toes, and ears getting tingly or going numb, it’s because your body has cut off blood flow to your extremities. This reduction in blood flow means a decrease in the amount of white blood cells flowing through your body. White blood cells are the body’s first responders against viruses and bacteria, and can help fight them off as they enter. Our extremities, particularly our fingers, collect a high amount of germs from other people, second only to our respiratory system which suffers the same issue from the cold. This causes a dampening of our auto-immune response, leaving us more susceptible to disease.
Once the viruses are inside of our system, the cold still does us no favors. The bacteria and viruses, such as the rhinoviruses behind the common cold and influenza, have trouble surviving in warmer temperatures. This is why we have fevers: an increased body temperature can create conditions that these viruses and bacteria can’t reproduce in. Unsurprisingly, the opposite effect occurs when our body temperature is lowered. They thrive in lower temperatures, and can reproduce more quickly. In warmer weather, a virus can take days to show its effects, and is often out of your system before you feel it. In winter weather, a virus can begin to show its effects in hours, and possibly before your white blood cells catch it.
As we covered in an article on fall illnesses, cold weather can also leave you more susceptible to heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. When our bodies get cold, blood vessels begin to contract. This makes our heart put in extra work, but it’s not always effective. The same effect happens inside our lungs, where bronchioles begin to contract, making respiratory sickness hit much harder.
Why staying warm is especially important for children
While your children aren’t likely to have a heart attack, they are impacted very heavily by the winter air. Some people believe that children adapt more quickly than adults to changes in weather, which may be true. If you notice yourself feeling colder in the early weeks of winter, when temperatures are still dropping, than you do when the cold has settled in, it’s because changes that your body makes haven’t taken place yet. Largely related to blood, a child’s circulation is often much better than an adult’s, so these changes are easier to make. However, this can’t prevent every problem.
Children, especially toddlers, have a much weaker immune system than adults. While their body may handle the stress better than adults would, this leaves them more susceptible to infection. If this weren’t already worrying, we must consider that children also spend a lot of time around other children, particularly at school. Here, kids spread germs like wildfire. The cold weather also brings on heating, which combined with poor ventilation means that the germs will stay in the air longer.
With these problems in mind, it’s important that you do everything possible to keep your child healthy. One of the best ways to keep them healthy is to keep them warm, because even a slight drop in body temperature can cause autoimmune deficiencies. It’s unlikely that staying warm will be a matter of life and death, but it could be a matter of health and influenza.