Heading Out to Enjoy Winter Recreation?

Venturing outdoors is a fun way to get fresh air, participate in sports, and enjoy nature. Winter is no exception with skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding options to enjoy. However, as the weather gets colder, we face new hazards. When temperatures drop significantly below normal and as wind speeds increase, your body rapidly loses heat. The loss of body heat can cause severe health conditions. Knowing the signs and symptoms of these conditions is key in staying safe as you explore the great outdoors.

Frostbite is one of the most common cold weather-related illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It’s caused by freezing and creates a loss of feeling and color in the affected areas. The nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes are most commonly affected by frostbite. The risk of frostbite increases in people with reduced blood circulation and those who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures. 

The early stages of frostbite may include redness or pain in any area of the skin. As it progresses, signs of frostbite can lead to:

  • A white or grayish-yellow skin area
  • Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • Numbness

If you suspect frostbite, seek medical attention. If immediate medical care is unavailable, take the following steps:

  • Get into a warm room or shelter as soon as possible
  • Do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes, unless absolutely necessary
  • Immerse the affected area in warm – not hot – water. The temperature should be comfortable to the touch for the unaffected parts of the body
  • Warm the affected area by using body heat. For instance, the warmth of an armpit can be used to warm fingers
  • Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow, or massage it at all. It causes more damage
  • Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned

Hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature, is caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. 

Warning signs of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness

If you notice someone showing any of these symptoms, take the person’s temperature. If it’s below 95ºF, immediately seek medical attention. If medical care isn’t available, begin warming the person by doing the following:

  • Get the victim into a warm room or shelter
  • If the victim has wet clothing on, remove it
  • Warm the center of the body first – chest, neck, head, and groin – using an electric blanket, if available. If not, use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets
  • Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature. Do not use alcoholic beverages or try to give beverages to an unconscious person
  • After the body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck
  • Get medical attention as soon as possible
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