Exposure to cold, wet and windy temperatures can cause injuries, especially for the elderly and babies. Proper prevention and recognizing the signs and symptoms of cold illnesses can help reduce the risk of frostbite or the life-threatening condition hypothermia.
Frostbite is the freezing of the skin and tissues underneath. It can occur when a person is exposed to freezing temperatures for too long. The severity of frostbite depends on length of exposure, the temperature, wind-chill and humidity.
Symptoms can include:
- Tingling, stinging, burning/throbbing pain, numbness
- Red skin which can become white, pink-purple or blue-gray
- Blisters that fill with blood
It’s important to keep your hands, feet, ears, nose and face warm. Depending on the severity, treatment includes relieving pain and quickly rewarming the frostbitten area which can help prevent problems such as infection, dead tissue or amputation of the frozen part.
Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can make it. It can occur when you are exposed to cold air, water, wind, or rain.
Early signs include:
- Cold, pale, or blue-gray skin
- Lack of interest or concern
- Poor judgment
- Mild unsteadiness in balance or walking
- Slurred speech
- Numb hands and fingers and problems performing tasks
Late symptoms include:
- The trunk of the body is cold to the touch
- Muscles becoming stiff
- Slow pulse
- Breathing that is shallow and slower
- Weakness or sleepiness
- Loss of consciousness
- Shivering, which may stop if body temperature drops below 90°F (32°C)
It is very important to know the symptoms of hypothermia and get treatment quickly. Often someone’s body temperature will drop very low before others notice something is wrong.
Preventing Risk Due to Cold
Many factors can increase your risk of injury from exposure to cold temperatures but can often be prevented by protecting yourself outdoors while in cold weather.
Follow these tips:
- Prepare an emergency kit to keep in your car
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid consuming alcohol
- Do not use caffeine and do not smoke
- Wear the proper clothing, including eyewear
How to Dress for Cold Weather
Follow the C-O-L-D system:
- C - Cover your head, neck and face as much as possible
- O - Overexertion can cause you to sweat and chill more quickly
- L - Layers of clothing will keep you warm and protect you against wind and cold conditions
- D - Dry, waterproof clothing reduces heat loss
What should I keep in my emergency kit?
- A heavy blanket or two
- A heavier coat, ski hat and gloves
- Winter boots
- Non-perishable snacks
- A small LED flashlight
- A First aid kit