When you think of cold weather-related injuries, you might imagine arctic explorers or mountaineers as the most at risk. However, anyone can experience the effects of cold temperatures while traveling, even in less extreme conditions. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll discuss the steps you can take to prevent cold weather injuries, how to recognize the early symptoms of common cold-related issues, and what to do in case you find yourself in a dangerous situation due to the cold.
Dressing for Cold Weather Success
To prevent cold weather injuries, it’s crucial to dress appropriately. Follow these tips to stay warm and comfortable:
- Wear warm clothing in several loose layers.
- Choose a tightly woven, wind-resistant coat or jacket.
- Opt for inner layers of light, warm clothing, along with mittens, hats, and scarves.
- Ensure your equipment is suitable for the weather, climate, and activities you’ll be doing.
- In wet conditions, wear waterproof shoes with good traction.
- For water activities, select a wetsuit with adequate thickness to prevent hypothermia.
- Use personal flotation devices, as they can save lives if someone is unable to swim due to injury or cold.
Staying Dry and Avoiding Sweat
Staying dry is essential, as your body loses heat quickly when wet. Wet clothing and sweat can chill the body rapidly and increase heat loss. To stay dry:
- Remove extra clothing layers whenever you feel too warm or start to sweat.
- Choose waterproof gear for wet conditions.
Don’t Ignore Shivering
Shivering is an early sign that your body is losing heat, and constant shivering indicates that you need to find shelter and warm up. Don’t ignore shivering – take action to get warm.
Recognizing Cold Injuries: Hypothermia and Frostbite
When exposed to cold temperatures, your body can lose heat quickly. This heat loss can lead to severe health effects, such as hypothermia and frostbite.
Hypothermia occurs when core body temperature drops below 95°F (35°C). It can happen at very cold temperatures or even mild ones (around 50°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water.
Early symptoms of hypothermia include:
- Feeling tired
As heat loss continues:
- Shivering may stop
- Skin may turn blue
- Pupils may dilate
- Pulse and breathing slow down
- Loss of consciousness may occur
If you suspect someone’s body temperature is below 95°F or they exhibit any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. If immediate medical care is unavailable:
- Find shelter indoors, preferably in the warmest room available
- Remove wet clothing
- Warm the chest, neck, head, and groin with a warm dry compress or electric blanket. Skin-to-skin contact can also be used under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets
- Drink a non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated warm beverage to increase body temperature. Do not attempt to give beverages to an unconscious person
Frostbite occurs when skin is exposed to freezing temperatures. It can affect the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes and cause damage to deep layers of tissue under the skin. Frostbite can range from mild to severe.
Early signs of frostbite include numbness, tingling, stinging, or pain in areas most exposed to the cold.
If you notice frostbite symptoms, seek medical care immediately. If medical care is not available:
- Move to a warmer room or shelter
- Remove wet clothing
- Soak the affected body part in warm water
Cold weather conditions can present a variety of health risks, but by taking appropriate precautions, you can safely enjoy your travels. Dress warmly, stay dry, and be vigilant about recognizing the early symptoms of cold-related injuries. With proper planning and awareness, you can prevent and address these issues to ensure a safe and enjoyable cold-weather adventure.