Avoiding injuries caused by extreme cold
What are the symptoms of frostbite?
When your body gets cold, its initial reaction is to reduce blood circulation to the extremities and to speed up the metabolism by shivering. Thus, first-degree frostbite is defined as the freezing of the outer layers of the skin and affects only a small portion of a cheek, an earlobe, fingers or toes, for instance. The skin is white and rubbery, but can still be compressed. With more severe frostbite, the skin is white and rigid.
Frostbite symptoms are usually as follows:
- numbness in the extremities, loss of feeling, skin changing from red to blue to gray and then to white
- increasingly painful skin
- possible feeling of tingling, numbness and even burning
If you must stay outside in extreme cold for more than 15 minutes, protect your face with a ski mask or a scarf. In this regard, see the section called “Staying warm even in winter.”
How to treat frostbite
Frostbite can be treated by holding the affected area against a warm part of the skin or by blowing warm air on it. For example, you can place your warm hand on a frozen cheek or your frozen toes against someone else’s warm stomach. Refrain from rubbing or massaging frozen tissues, because ice crystals could then affect the neighbouring cells.
Like frostbite, hypothermia results when the body or a part of the body gets cold. It occurs especially in damp, windy and cold weather (especially if you are wet, injured or unable to move). It can set in slowly during a day of outdoor activity or quickly if you are immersed in cold water. The gradual onset of hypothermia during outdoor activities is often due to clothing that is inadequate for the weather, to an insufficient intake of energy foods for the activity in question and to dehydration. Frostbite can lead to generalized hypothermia.
How to prevent hypothermia
To prevent hypothermia, wear protective clothing that is suited to the worst possible weather conditions, eat energy foods during the activity and drink enough liquids. It is preferable to wear several layers of protective clothing. Outerwear should be waterproof or windproof. You should be able to add or remove layers of clothing in order to maintain a slightly above normal body temperature. In addition, avoid heavy perspiration, since damp clothing provides less insulation. For water activities, it may be necessary to wear isothermal clothing that is entirely or partially waterproof.
Recognizing the signs of hypothermia
The symptoms of hypothermia set in gradually. They start with:
- loss of fine motor skills
- numbness that turns into severe trembling
- rapid breathing
- rapid pulse
- decreased level of consciousness
- impaired judgment
- slow thinking
- dilated pupils
- slower heartbeat
- slurred speech
- difficulty in moving
- loss of consciousness
A simple way of detecting the onset of hypothermia is to try to tie your laces or to touch your little finger with your thumb.
Before engaging in any winter activity, find out about the weather conditions and dress accordingly. In this regard, see the section called “Staying warm even in winter.”
What to do in the case of hypothermia
To treat an onset of hypothermia:
- find a warm place
- put on dry clothes
- drink warm liquids (water, milk or juice) and avoid alcohol as well as hot drinks
- ask for medical assistance
If the person has spent time in cold water, he or she should be undressed only once in a warm place. If it is impossible to find shelter, even damp clothing reduces heat loss.Rescue workers must begin by warming up the person’s trunk. Rapid warming of the extremities may result in a drop in the body’s temperature and further cooling of the internal organs.
- Learning to skate
- How to choose a pair of ice skates
- How to make a skating rink
- Disc golf
- Staying warm, even in the winter
- Guide to winter comfort
- Introduction to broomball
- Nordic walking in Québec
- Avoiding injuries caused by extreme cold
- Criteria for a good family tobogganing area
- Cold hands, hot meals!
- Danger! Frozen bodies of water