Snowfall is one of the best things about winter.
Think about it: You can hit the local slopes for a day of skiing, go snowshoeing to get a new perspective of the city from an incredible viewpoint, or cruise along some nordic trails – or your own neighbourhood streets for that matter!
Yup snow can be pretty epic.
But it’s something you need to take seriously if you want to stay safe. When mother nature calls for cold, it comes bad. And since this winter is set to be a memorable one for lovers of winter sports, you’ll want to be prepared.
We’ve compiled a list of five cold-related illnesses that you could be subjected to this winter and how you can prevent them from happening with tips from Canadian Red Cross partner Pacific First Aid.
You’ve probably used the phrase, ‘I feel like I’ve gotten frostbite’ when your feet are cold. But if you had experienced frostbite for real, you’d know all about it. It’s caused by freezing of the skin and, in more extreme cases, the underlying tissues. Body parts such as the toes, feet, fingers, hands, ears, and nose are particularly prone to frostbite. You can anticipate a warning sign if you’re about to experience frostbite because your skin may appear shiny and rosy.
Tips for prevention:
- Never ignore numbness: If an area feels numb or tingly, you must take steps to warm it immediately (e.g., put your hands under your armpits or pull your arms inside your jacket for direct skin-to-skin contact).
- Cover up vulnerable areas such as the cheeks, nose, and ears by wearing clothing that is appropriate for the weather (e.g., scarf, toque, mittens).
- Wear mittens instead of gloves when possible, as mittens provide better insulation.
- Maximize foot insulation but avoid a tight fit around the toes.
- Wear clothing in layers and adjust as necessary so that you feel warm but are not overheating and sweating.
- Keep well hydrated.
- Keep clothing dry and change out of wet clothing as soon as possible.
This happens when your body temperature (the temperature of your heart, lungs, and brain) drops to 35°C (95°F) or lower. It can a become life-threatening and much more serious condition when the core temperature drops below 28°C (82.4°F). Those who are at a higher risk of developing hypothermia include the elderly, young children, people with smaller body types, lower overall body weights, and lower body-fat content. And it doesn’t just strike in winter – it can happen at any stage throughout the year.
Tips for prevention:
- Prepare for activities in cold environments by wearing appropriate clothing.
- Wear a hat and clothing made of tightly woven fibres (e.g., wool, fleece), which provide insulation and allow moisture transmission from the skin to the external environment.
- Avoid cotton because it soaks up water and stays wet.
- Wear clothing in layers so that they can be added or removed according to the weather conditions and exercise intensity.
- Remove some clothing before working to reduce the amount of sweat and keep clothing dry.
- Keep clothing dry: If clothing gets wet, change into dry clothing as soon as possible.
- Carry and consume high-energy foods that have a lot of sugar.
Freezing of skin to metal objects
You’ve seen this happen in the movie Dumb and Dumber but in reality, it’s not a laughing matter. Your skin (especially your tongue and lips) can actually freeze to cold metal objects in colder temperatures. It’s a higher risk when the skin is wet or moist, which it can be when you’re mid-ski. So remember to be careful when you take a sip out of any metal flasks you may have with you.
Tips for care:
- Do not pull or tug the frozen body part.
- Pour warm (not hot) water on the surface of the object or the skin that is stuck to the object.
- As the skin begins to come free, gently release the metal object.
- Treat any torn skin as an open wound.
This occurs when your eyes are exposed to ultraviolet rays. And it most commonly happens when the sun’s light is reflected from snow, ice, or sand. So it’s certainly worthwhile investing in a pair of ski goggles or sunglasses that block 100% of UV rays. Be cautious because snow blindness can occur even on cloudy days.
Tips for care:
- Place the person in a darker environment, if possible, or cover his or her eyes.
- Apply a cool, damp cloth to reduce pain and burning.
- If the person’s vision is affected, seek medical attention.
If you’re out on the open water and a boat capsizes or if you’re walking across a frozen lake and break through the ice, you could experience cold water immersion. And although hypothermia happens faster in cold water than cold air, the signs, symptoms, and care are essentially the same.
Tips for prevention and reducing the risk of drowning:
- Always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) when in a boat or other mode of marine transportation.
- Supervise children in, on, and around any body of water.
- Those who do not swim or are weak swimmers should wear a PFD when in, on, and around any body of water.
- Check water depth before swimming or diving.
- Have appropriate safety equipment available when in or on the water.
- Take Canadian Red Cross Swimming and Water Safety lessons.
For more information on how to become qualified in first aid or to purchase supplies, visit Pacific First Aid.