As Canadians, we embrace cold winters and the outdoor winter activities that we enjoy. The next time you go tobogganing or decide to organize a good ol' snowball fight, prepare for the cold. Learn how to prevent cold-related health injuries and prepare for cold-weather emergencies.
The Halton Region Health Department issues cold warnings during any of the following weather conditions:
- Daily predicted low of -15 degrees Celsius without wind-chill
- Environment Canada issues an Extreme Cold Warning for outdoor activity (temperature or wind chill to reach -30 degrees Celsius for at least 2 consecutive hours)
- Extreme weather conditions such as a blizzard or ice storm
Are you at risk during cold weather?
Extreme cold-weather conditions can affect anyone depending on length of exposure and activity levels.
Those at a higher risk include:
- Adults over 65 years of age
- Infants and young children
- People who work outdoors
- People who exercise outdoors
- People with limited resources to house and protect themselves
What are cold-related injuries?
Frostbite is an injury to the body caused by freezing. People experience a loss of feeling and colour in affected areas, most commonly in the areas furthest from your heart, such as hands, feet, nose and ears.
In extreme cases, you may experience skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, numbness, or a white or grayish-yellowing of the skin. If this happens, seek medical assistance immediately.
If you suspect a case of frostbite:
- Get indoors to a warm room as soon as possible
- Wrap yourself in blankets or use skin-to-skin contact with another person to warm yourself
- Place your hands under your underarms for warmth
- Submerge injured skin in warm (not hot) water
- Do not: rub, massage or shake the injured skin as this can cause more damage
- If toes or feet are frostbitten, limit walking
Hypothermia is a dangerous drop in body temperature, caused by prolonged exposure to cold. There are 3 stages ranging from mild to severe.
- Mild – Body temp between 32-35 degrees celsius. Symptoms include:
- Shivering & goosebumps (arrow to arms)
- increases heart rate and breathing (arrow to heart)
- numbness in extremities (arrow to feet, hands, ears
- Severe – Body temp below 28 degrees celsius. Symptoms include:
- loss of consciousness
- no response to light in the eyes
- rigid muscles
Hypothermia is a medical emergency. Call 911 immediately.
While waiting for help:
- Move the person to a warm place
- Gently remove any wet clothing
- Layer blankets and warm the person gradually
- Give them a sweet and warm drink if they are alert
- Don't fight shivering – the body does this to increase core temperature
How to prevent cold-related injury
- Dress according to the weather as frostbite can occur within minutes
- Cover exposed skin with layers of loose-fitting clothing, including a wind-resistant outer layer, hat, mittens, and scarf
- Change into dry clothing as soon as possible if you get wet
- Drink warm fluids (alcohol and caffeinated drinks cause your body to lose heat faster)
- Keep moving – especially your hands and feet
- Take shelter from the wind
- Keep your vehicle well maintained
- Prepare emergency kits for your home and car
- Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia
- Plan ahead and check the weather forecast
How can I prepare my home and car for winter?
- Make sure your heating system is working efficiently
- Seal all cracks and drafts in windows and doors
- Stock at least a 3 days' supply of:
- Food that does not need to be cooked or refrigerated
- Store the following items in your vehicle at all times:
- Booster cables
- Vehicle fluids
- Emergency flares
- Survival candle
- First aid kit
- Help sign