Cold-related Injury

Cold weather can be harmful to your health. While the health risks related to cold are higher for certain groups (such as people who work outdoors, people with pre-existing heart conditions or respiratory illnesses, older adults, infants, young children, and those who are experiencing homelessness), everyone is potentially at risk. Fortunately, most cold-related injuries can be prevented or treated if you are aware of the risks, signs, and symptoms. This information can help you to plan ahead, and take action to protect yourself and your family.

Cold weather can result in the development of cold-related injuries, such as windburn, frostnip, frostbite and hypothermia.

Windburn

Occurs when cold wind removes the top layer of oil from the skin

Signs and Symptoms

  • Excessive dryness
  • Redness
  • Soreness
  • Itchiness

What to do

  • Do not scratch or rub affected areas
  • Apply protective skin care product as needed to relieve symptoms
  • Use lip balm to protect lips

Frostnip

Mild form of frostbite, only the skin freezes

Signs and Symptoms

  • Skin appears yellowish or white, but feels soft to the touch
  • Painful tingling or burning sensation

What to do

  • Move to a warm room, reheat your body with blankets or by contact with another person
  • Thaw injured skin in water above body temperature (Note: Do not use scalding or hot water)
  • Do not rub, massage or shake the injured skin
  • For severe frostbite, seek medical attention immediately

Frostbite

Both skin and the underlying tissue are frozen

Signs and Symptoms

  • Skin appears white and waxy, hard to the touch
  • Frostbite area has no feeling
  • Severe frostbite can cause permanent damage to body tissue if it is not treated immediately.

What to do

  • Move to a warm room, reheat your body with blankets or by contact with another person
  • Thaw injured skin in water above body temperature (Note: Do not use scalding or hot water)
  • Do not rub, massage or shake the injured skin
  • For severe frostbite, seek medical attention immediately

Hypothermia

Occurs when body loses heat faster than it can produce it

Signs and Symptoms

Stage 1: Shivering, goose bumps on skin, numb hands, quick and shallow breathing, fatigue

Stage 2: Warm sensation, strong shivering, uncoordinated movements, mild confusion, lips/ears/fingers/toes may turn blue

Stage 3: In severe cases, frostbite can affect speaking, thinking and walking, amnesia may develop, blue/puffy skin

What to do

Hypothermia is a medical emergency. Call 911 immediately if you suspect someone may have hypothermia.

While waiting for help:

  • Move them to a warm place
  • Gently remove any wet clothing
  • Wrap them in blankets/dry clothing
  • Give them  warm and sweet liquids

Do not fight shivering, it’s one of the ways the body increases its core temperature.

Adapted from Health Canada: It’s your Health-Extreme Cold

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