Weathering Winter

It’s a Family Health and Safety Issue


Know what really bites? Frostbite, hypothermia and realizing, a half an hour after your kids hopped on the bus, that they’ve forgotten their mitts or snow pants in the hall closet. EEK! It’s not so unusual for moms or dads to swing by a school in January to drop off these seasonal essentials.

After all, in Ottawa the cold is a health issue. “Winter temperature paired with wind can cause severe injuries and even death,” notes an Ottawa Public Health advisory at ottawa. ca. “Frostbite injuries can lead to amputations. Hypothermia, the most serious of cold weather complications can lead to brain damage and then death. At -15 °C, hypothermia becomes an increasing concern and when the wind chill reaches -35 °C or colder, exposed skin can freeze in as little as 10 minutes.”

Those most at risk include babies, children, seniors, outdoor workers, people who live on the street and winter sport enthusiasts who spend prolonged periods of times in action outside.

Babies, children, seniors, homeless people, outdoor sports enthusiasts and outdoor workers are most at risk.

The teens who want to take “just a few more runs” at the ski hill, although the temperature has dropped into the deep-freeze zone? Just say no. The Crosbys-in-their-dreams who want to keep playing shinny at the ODR (outdoor rinks) as the sky darkens and the air turns glacial? Call them home. Too much time spent in the bitter cold can cause them harm.

Everybody who heads outside on particularly cold days and nights should dress accordingly. Got your woolly socks out? Your toque? Your scarf? Your mittens? Careful attention must be given to babies and tikes, because it’s all too easy for mittens and other coverings to slip off without this being noticed.

The City of Ottawa advisory offers these tips to help ensure cold weather doesn’t pose a danger:

• Wear a hat. Up to 40 per cent of body heat loss can occur through the head.

• Wear gloves or mittens.

• Wear a scarf to protect the chin, lips and cheeks. All are extremely susceptible to cold weather injuries.

• Drink warm fluids, but no alcohol. Alcohol promotes other cold weather injuries.

• If you start to sweat, cool off a little. Wet clothes will also encourage other cold weather injuries.

• Wear clothes in layers:

◦The inner layer (closest to the skin) should have “wicking” properties to move any moisture away from the skin.

• The middle layer should be the insulating layer to prevent loss of your body heat while keeping the cold outside air away.

• The outer layer should be the “windbreaking” layer to reduce the chances of cold air reaching the insulating layer.”

Cold Facts

Frostbite causes harm to the skin due to exposure to extremely cold weather. It usually affects fingers, toes and the tip of the nose and ears. Cheeks, lips and chins are vulnerable too. The City of Ottawa offers this handy reminder:

Look for the 4 Ps of Frostbite:

• Pink: Affected areas will be reddish in colour. This is the first sign of frostbite.

• Pain: Affected areas will become painful.

• Patches: White, waxy feeling patches show up. Skin is dying.

• Pricklies: The areas will then feel numb.

Tips for Frostbite Prevention and Intervention

• When the thermometer reads -30 °C, stay put indoors, if possible, and keep the kids inside.

• When the temperature starts dropping into the polar zone, head for warmth.

• Keep extra mittens, gloves and socks in the car, in your work satchel and in your kids’ backpacks. Check regularly to ensure these items are still there.

• Be sure feet are dry; wear two pairs of socks.

If you’ve done a 4-P Check and it appears frostbite has set in, act with caution:

• Warm the area gently. Do not use hot water or a hairdryer set on high. Body heat works well.

• Do not rub the frostbitten area. This can cause more damage.

• Keep off your feet if your toes or soles are frostbitten.

• If there are white or grey patches, get them checked by a health-care provider.

Hypothermia is a dangerously low body temperature. At this temperature, your nervous system, heart and other organs can’t work properly. Untreated, hypothermia can lead to death. The City of Ottawa offers this handy reminder:

Signs of Hypothermia

Look for “UMBLES” from people affected by the cold
• A person who mumbles
• A person who stumbles
• A person who fumbles objects In infants, check for cold reddish skin and low energy. Always have a thermometer at home.

What To Do When You Suspect Hypothermia

• Get to a warm place as soon as possible.

• Remove wet clothing.

• Wrap person in layers of blankets, preferably ones that have been heated in a clothes dryer.

• Provide warm beverages, if the person is alert. Never give alcohol.

• Seek health-care attention.

Final winter health and safety tips:

• On really cold days and nights, never go out or let your kid go out alone to a remote location.

• Be sure your vehicle is stocked with first-aid supplies.

• Carry a cellphone.

• If you’re going winter hiking or cross-country skiing in the bush, go with a friend, carry a backpack with nourishment and always have a cell phone.

This entry was posted in Health and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.