Prevent frostbite and hypothermia

With cold weather being a fact of life for northerners, the Sudbury & District Health Unit would like to remind everyone to take appropriate precautions in the cold. Injuries related to the cold can happen at a wide range of temperatures, but occur more quickly when it’s colder. Hypothermia and frostbite are the most common and preventable injuries.

Suffering frostbite means that skin has actually frozen. In addition to feeling cold, the skin can feel numb and appear white. Body extremities are often the first to be frozen, for example, the nose, cheeks, ears, fingers, and toes. If frostbite is suspected, immediately treat the area by somehow covering it. Never rub or massage the area because it could damage the skin tissue. If possible, gently place the area in warm water (not hot) until it is warm and no longer numb. Apply a sterile dressing to the area, and place dressings between fingers and toes if they are affected. Seek medical attention to avoid further complications.

Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition. It occurs when the body is exposed to the cold for a long time and loses more heat than it can generate. The individual could be shivering, drowsy, confused, and have slurred speech, loss of coordination, and pale and bluish lips. When they stop shivering, their condition becomes severe and unconsciousness may soon follow. Treat hypothermia by moving the person to shelter, replacing wet clothing with dry clothing, and wrapping them in warm blankets. Keep the person lying flat and get immediate medical attention.

To prevent cold related injuries:

  • Listen to the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
  • Dress in layers, with a wind resistant outer layer. Wear a hat (a large amount of body heat is lost from the head) and mittens or insulated gloves. Keep your face warm by wearing a scarf, neck tube or facemask.
  • Wear warm and waterproof footwear that fits properly.
  • Stay dry. Wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Remove outer layers of clothing or open your coat if you are sweating.
  • Stay active, walking or running will help warm you by generating body heat.
  • Seek shelter from the wind.
  • Avoid using alcohol and tobacco as they increase your susceptibility to cold. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist as certain medications can also make you more susceptible.

For more information on preventing cold weather injuries, call 705.522.9200, ext. 464 (toll-free 1.866.522.9200).

This item was last modified on June 3, 2015