First aid for cold weather

By Charles Dart, Canadian Red Cross Digital Volunteer

Snuggle up with your favourite hot beverage and read these quick First Aid for cold weather tips to prepare yourself for the Canadian winter.
Before you go outside…

Woman outdoors in winterDress in layers of tightly woven fabrics such as wool or synthetics. Inner layers should include warm socks, a shirt (long-sleeved or short), and if you are still feeling chilly, fleece is a great addition. Now that you have your inner layer on, time to prepare for the wet and cold by putting on your outer layer: toque, scarf, gloves, boots, and a winter jacket!
Be sure to drink plenty of fluids during winter activities such as snowshoeing, skiing, or shovelling. Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages as they may lead to dehydration.

Cold weather health issues now that you are outside…
Do you feel your fingers tingling or paining and notice they are red and possibly swollen? When the air temperature dips below the freezing point and your skin is exposed, this may lead to a more serious condition known as frostbite.
Frostbite is when your skin freezes; it becomes cold and red, then numb, hard, and pale. Your toes, ears, fingers, and nose are most at risk of frostbite. This is where those gloves, scarves, and toques come in handy. Keep in mind that the higher the wind, the colder the air will feel. This is the wind chill factor.

Child holding snowIf you are feeling cold or have frostbite, check for signs of hypothermia. 
Hypothermia is the most serious yet very easily preventable cold weather health issue, caused by exposure to cold weather or water. It is divided into three levels: Mild, Moderate, and Severe.
Slowly developing signs of hypothermia may include (from mild to severe): shivering and chattering teeth, slight numbness in fingers and toes, slurred speech, confusion, loss of energy, and clumsiness. A sign to watch for is if a person stops shivering and has not re-warmed, this is moderate hypothermia.
How to help...
  • Do not rub or scratch any cold weather health issue,
  • Head indoors to a warm area,
  • Remove any restricting or wet clothing, and,
  • Slowly re-warm the affected area using lukewarm water or indirect heat.
  • If hypothermia is suspected, call EMS/911.
If any cold weather health issue continues to worsen, keep the affected areas raised and go to the hospital.

Learn more about cold-related emergencies such as hypothermia and frostbite.

Remember – these first aid for cold weather tips will help to keep you and your loved ones safe and have an enjoyable winter. Be sure to have a First Aid kit on hand, and download the Red Cross First Aid App to your device to have lifesaving help with you wherever you go.

Sign up for a Canadian Red Cross first aid course in your area.

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