Public Health shares tips on preventing frostbite and hypothermia

With cold weather being a fact of life for northerners, Public Health Sudbury & Districts would like to remind everyone to take appropriate precautions against the cold. Injuries related to the cold can happen at a wide range of temperatures but occur more quickly when it’s colder. Frostbite and hypothermia 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. In more severe cases the area becomes hard, waxy, and can turn white or dark. Body extremities are often the first to be frozen/frostbitten. Additionally, there is a condition called frostnip where a person’s skin may appear shiny and rosy. This is a sign that frostbite may occur shortly. If you see these signs, move to a warmer environment, or protect the skin with layers of clothing.

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 problems speaking, loss of coordination, and pale and bluish lips. People showing signs and symptoms of hypothermia will begin shivering, but this sign can decrease and disappear in later stages.

For more information and emergency treatment of frostbite and hypothermia, Public Health suggests reviewing the Cold-Related Emergencies: Staying Warm and Safe in Canadian Winters – Canadian Red Cross or the St. John Ambulance First Aid Reference Guide starting at Page 233.

To prevent cold related injuries:

  • Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend in the cold.
  • Dress in layers, with a wind-resistant outer layer. Wear a hat and mittens or insulated gloves. Keep your face warm by wearing a scarf, neck tube, or face mask.
  • Wear warm, waterproof footwear.
  • Seek shelter from the wind.
  • Stay active. Walking or running will help warm you by generating body heat but try to avoid sweating.
  • Stay dry. Remove wet clothing if possible and remove or ventilate outer layers of clothing if you are sweating.
  • Speak to your doctor or pharmacist as certain medications can make you more susceptible to the cold.

On very cold days, check in on neighbours who may be vulnerable to cold due to age, living conditions, health conditions, reduced mobility, or isolation.

People who are unhoused can spend long periods outside and can suffer increased effects from the cold. This can be due to the following issues, as well as other factors:

  • inadequate clothing
  • malnutrition
  • a previous cold-weather injury
  • history of heart disease or diabetes

The possibility of severe, non-fatal impacts of cold weather—such as amputation or extended hospitalizations—increases for people who are unhoused. To help people in these situations, consider making a financial contribution or donating warm blankets, warm socks, mittens, hats, long underwear, footwear, and outerwear to local aid groups.

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

This item was last modified on January 17, 2024