Hypothermia, frostbite only two of the possibilities when it gets really cold

Here are a few tips from an AHS doctor

Gord Fortin
Lakeside Leader

Cold weather can wreak havoc on the human body and cause real damage, according to Dr. Kathryn Koliaska of Alberta Health Services.
Slave Lake, as well as much of Canada, found itself experiencing a significant cold spell during the last week of 2017. Koliaska wants to highlight ways of preventing injuries from cold weather and anticipating this type of weather.
Koliaska encourages people to watch the weather forecasts as well as anticipate changes in conditions. If you are traveling or planning outdoor activities, she feels it is best to be extra prepared for anything.
“You really can’t be over-prepared when temperatures get that low and that cold.” she says.
The definition of “being prepared” may change depending on the activity, but Koliaska suggests that people should dress in layers. This way there will be options available should weather problems arise.
Certain demographics are more susceptible to the cold, such as children and seniors. It is important for these groups to plan ahead. The consumption of alcohol can also make you more vulnerable to harm in the lower temperatures.
Prolonged exposure to the cold can result in injury. Koliaska says this can lead to frostbite. This occurs when the tissue under the skin freezes and it causes damage to the anatomy. Fingers and toes are usually at risk as is any exposed skin.
“That is certainly dangerous and painful,” she says.
Frostbite is not the only thing to worry about. Koliaska explaines that frost nip is another possibility. This is similar to a frost bite but much less severe. An affected area will experience numbness or lighter skin. There is no permanent damage.
“It’s a mild version (of frostbite),” she says.
Tissue damage is not the only thing to be worry about. If someone’s body temperature drops enough that leaves them open to hypothermia.
Typically when someone is cold they will shiver. The shivering a mechanism of the human body to try to make up for lost heat. When the body stays in the cold and stops shivering that is where hypothermia sets in. She says this is extremely dangerous. It causes confusion and can be fatal.
Koliaska warned that if someone is suffering from any of these conditions to be careful if you try to warm the person up. Because the cold causes numbness, flesh is not as sensitive to feel temperatures so touching something too hot could cause further damage and the person my not feel it. She suggests to look at the situation and act accordingly. She also recomends medical help if needed.
As for prevention, she suggests wearing winter gloves, winter boots, wearing a warm hat, a winter coat and warm pants. She added that you should make sure the clothes are rated for the temperature as well as to take stock of the material.
Koliaska says if clothes are wet, they have no potential to be warm.
“If you’re wet you can chill very quickly,” she says.
Koliaska did not have any stats to share on injuries caused by this cold spell. She explained that in general terms when the temperature drops, hospitals see more visits for treatment of cold weather injuries.
Alberta Health Services was not responsible for issuing advisories on this matter. That falls under the responsibility of Environment Canada.

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