Preventing Hypothermia and Frostbite

Temperature in most parts of Canada can drop to as low as -10 °C (14 °F) during the winter season. Along with the chilly weather is a significant increase in the cases of hypothermia and frostbite. As such, St Mark James warns everyone to take a few extra steps and follow tips on how to prevent these potentially life-threatening conditions.

Before heading outside to travel or to participate in outdoor winter activities, it is very important that you know how to protect yourself from extreme cold. Knowledge of prevention and first aid for frostbite and hypothermia can ensure a safe, enjoyable winter experience.

What You Need To Know

Hypothermia is a condition wherein the body’s core temperature drops below the normal range (96.8-100.4°F). This results in injury to the body tissues and, if not treated, can lead to death. A sudden drop in body temperature is an emergency situation that requires prompt medical attention or first aid. The goal of first aid treatment for hypothermia is to restore normal body temperature.

There are several factors that may increase the risk for hypothermia. These include age (elderly and very young people), lack of food, immersion in cold water, exposure to chilly wind or rain, and use of alcohol and drugs. Hypothermia cases are often recorded during the winter months, although it can also occur at any month of the year.

On the other hand, frostbite is a condition characterized by the freezing of the extremities, most commonly the earlobes, nose tip, toes, and fingers. It can occur alongside hypothermia.

Frostbite is caused by prolonged exposure to subzero or freezing temperatures. If not treated, this condition can lead to death of the frostbitten body tissues (also called gangrene), often requiring top amputation. The affected area is highly susceptible to infection hence should be carefully protected.

How To Prevent Frostbite and Hypothermia

  • Wear thick clothing made of tightly woven fibers and a hat to trap warm air in your body. Wearing several layers of light clothing provides better insulation than one heavy garment.
  • Wear protective cover for vulnerable areas such as upper and lower extremities, toes and fingers, nose, and ears.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine as they can hinder your body’s heat-producing mechanism, causing a further decrease in your core body temperature.
  • Increase consumption of warm fluids and high energy foods to help maintain normal body temperature. If warm drinks are not available, you can drink plain water instead.
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to cold temperature. Stay inside a warm building or near heating system in case of extremely cold rain or wind.
  • If participating in outdoor winter activities, take frequent breaks from the cold to keep your body warm.

Always remember these tips before you head outside this winter season. To learn more about the first aid treatment for hypothermia and frostbite, you can attend basic first aid training offered by St Mark James. Contact your local St Mark James chapter to signup for training.

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