American Survival Guide - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Larry Schwartz

Pre­vent and treat com­mon win­ter in­juries.

Old Man Win­ter can be a real SOB when it comes to cold-weather in­juries. And he’s sneaky, too. It doesn’t need to be all that cold for some of the things we are go­ing to cover in this article to im­pact your health.

Cold-weather in­juries hap­pen due to one of the fol­low­ing: (1) not reg­u­lat­ing your body heat and core tem­per­a­ture; (2) not cov­er­ing ex­posed skin; (3) not keep­ing your body and your cloth­ing dry; and (4) not stay­ing hy­drated.

Not stay­ing hy­drated can lead to cracked and chapped lips, the in­abil­ity to sweat (which is vi­tal to con­trol­ling your body tem­per­a­ture) and fail­ure of a num­ber of bod­ily func­tions. Fail­ure to pro­tect ex­posed skin can also get you chapped lips, as well as frost­bite, sun­burn and loss of body heat. Al­low­ing your­self and your cloth­ing to get wet can lead to frost­bite and loss of body heat. Not wear­ing the right mix of clothes will keep you from be­ing able to reg­u­late your body tem­per­a­ture.

And they all con­trib­ute to the dead­li­est, most in­sid­i­ous cold weather in­jury: hy­pother­mia.


Snow blind­ness is a tem­po­rary loss of sight due to pro­longed over­ex­po­sure to ul­tra­vi­o­let (UV) rays from the sun. This level of UV dam­age to the eyes is an in­creased threat in the win­ter be­cause of the ad­di­tional im­pact to the eyes by the rays re­flect­ing off snow and ice.

Ex­po­sure re­sults from spend­ing long times on snow- and ice-cov­ered ter­rain and not pro­tect­ing your eyes with sun­glasses, which fil­ter out the UV rays. Gog­gles that only allow light in through a nar­row slit are ef­fec­tive, too. Be­cause the in­jury is caused by UV ra­di­a­tion, you can fall vic­tim to it, even when the sky is over­cast. So, be sure to wear some form of Uv-pro­tec­tive eye­wear in snowy and icy con­di­tions when the sun is out.

Symp­toms in­clude a scratchy or burn­ing feel­ing, sim­i­lar to when you get sand or grit in your eyes. The pain can be mild or ex­treme, de­pend­ing on the length of ex­po­sure. Vi­sion can de­crease, your eyes may tear more, it might be dif­fi­cult to open your eye­lids, and you could get a headache.


The only ef­fec­tive treat­ment is to keep your eyes in the dark. Move the per­son to a dark area. Cover their eyes with a dark cloth, and re­as­sure them that it is only tem­po­rary and that they will re­gain their sight in time. Us­ing a damp cloth might pro­vide a sooth­ing feel­ing. Get them to med­i­cal care as soon as you can for eval­u­a­tion and fur­ther treat­ment. De­pend­ing on the sever­ity, re­cov­ery could take from two to three days.


Sun­burn is nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with the sum­mer months, but it is still a se­ri­ous con­cern dur­ing the cold weather. Like snow blind­ness, it is dam­age done to the skin from UV rays.

Sun­burn hap­pens when your un­pro­tected skin is ex­posed to UV rays for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time, which causes red­den­ing of the skin and, in more se­ri­ous cases, peel­ing or blis­ters. These can be stronger at higher al­ti­tudes, be­cause there is less air to fil­ter out the rays. Pro­tect your skin, even if it is over­cast, be­cause clouds can­not block UV rays.

The only way to avoid a sun­burn is to shield your skin from the sun’s UV rays. This can best be done with a com­bi­na­tion of cloth­ing and sun­screen. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants (which shouldn’t be a chal­lenge


in the win­ter). Ex­posed skin should be pro­tected with a high Spf-rated sun­screen lo­tion that should be re-ap­plied as of­ten as di­rected on the pack­ag­ing to main­tain ef­fec­tive­ness.


If you do wind up get­ting a sun­burn, the first thing you should do is avoid any added ex­po­sure to the sun. Ap­ply aloe or some­thing sim­i­lar to help mois­tur­ize the skin. Take anal­gesics for pain if needed. Ap­ply­ing cool cloths can help re­move the heat and calm the pain. If blis­ters form, do not break them. They will re­solve on their own.


Frost­bite oc­curs when your skin, ei­ther open to the en­vi­ron­ment or cov­ered, is ex­posed to freez­ing tem­per­a­tures. These

low tem­per­a­tures ac­tu­ally start to freeze the skin and un­der­ly­ing tissue, start­ing on the out­side but also pro­gress­ing deeper into the body with pro­longed ex­po­sure. It usu­ally oc­curs on ex­posed ar­eas or ex­trem­i­ties, such as the feet, toes, hands, fingers, face, ears, nose, cheeks and wrists, but it can af­fect any part of your body.

There are many ways to get frost­bite: mak­ing snow­balls with your bare hands, ski­ing all day with­out a cov­er­ing for your head or face, fall­ing into freez­ing wa­ter or field-dress­ing a deer in freez­ing con­di­tions and not dry­ing your hands off as you go.

In su­per­fi­cial cases, the skin ex­posed to the weather be­comes red­dish in light-skinned in­di­vid­u­als and gray­ish on dark-skinned in­di­vid­u­als. Whiten­ing, or “blanch­ing,” of the skin might oc­cur, and you will feel a tin­gling sen­sa­tion fol­lowed by numb­ness. In more-se­vere cases, there will be a to­tal lack of feel­ing in the area af­fected, be­cause the tissue has been frozen. It might feel hard to the touch due to the freez­ing.



To treat frost­bite, you should move the per­son to a shel­tered area, loosen any re­stric­tive cloth­ing or jewelry to fa­cil­i­tate blood flow, and grad­u­ally warm the per­son and the af­fected

area. Do this by us­ing your own body heat to warm the per­son’s in­jured area, ap­ply­ing warm com­presses to the area, putting the af­fected area in warm wa­ter, rais­ing the tem­per­a­ture in the room or space around them, and give them warm, non-al­co­holic liq­uids to drink to help warm the blood as it cir­cu­lates through the body.

Do not rub the af­fected area, be­cause this will do more dam­age to the tissue. As the af­fected area warms, in mild cases, the skin color will re­turn to nor­mal. In cases of deep frost­bite, you should get the per­son to med­i­cal help as soon as pos­si­ble. Do not be­gin warm­ing a frozen area un­less you can do it con­tin­u­ously; thaw­ing and then re­freez­ing the tissue will cause more dam­age.

As the frost­bite improves, the per­son might feel a tin­gling sen­sa­tion as feel­ing re­turns to the area. This may progress to a throb­bing pain, but that is nor­mal and noth­ing to worry about, al­though it is un­com­fort­able.


Hy­pother­mia is caused by a drop in your core body tem­per­a­ture be­low 95 de­grees (F). In other words, you have been los­ing body heat, of­ten with­out re­al­iz­ing it, and your body is cool­ing down to the point at which it doesn’t func­tion prop­erly. It af­fects your abil­ity to think clearly, and it can be deadly. Hy­pother­mia is more com­mon among small chil­dren and in the el­derly.

The heat loss can hap­pen in a va­ri­ety of ways:

• Fall­ing out of a boat into cold wa­ter (any time of the year) and not be­ing able to get out

of the wa­ter for an ex­tended pe­riod of time;

• Wear­ing cloth­ing that keeps sweat next to or near your skin so that as it cools, it draws

heat from your skin and, as a re­sult, from your core;

• Hav­ing skin ex­posed in windy and damp con­di­tions so that you lose body heat from the

wind blow­ing across your skin.

Symp­toms of hy­pother­mia in­clude shiver­ing (fol­lowed by a loss of shiver­ing as it gets worse), clum­si­ness, slurred speech, fa­tigue, mem­ory loss, con­fu­sion, pale or blue skin, and breath­ing faster.

As hy­pother­mia oc­curs over a pe­riod of time, you of­ten don’t re­al­ize it is hap­pen­ing to you. If you travel in a group, it is im­por­tant for every­one to know the symp­toms and to keep an eye on each other, be­cause they will be the first ones to re­al­ize you’re at risk—not you.


If you or some­one in your group has hy­pother­mia, treat it im­me­di­ately, be­fore the core tem­per­a­ture drops any fur­ther.

Get the per­son to a warm area, out of the weather. Re­move any wet or damp cloth­ing, dry off the skin, and don dry cloth­ing, if pos­si­ble. Warm the torso first, us­ing an electric blan­ket (if one is avail­able) or your own or some­one else’s body heat. Wrap the vic­tim loosely in a blan­ket.

In the outdoors, the best way is to put the vic­tim and an­other per­son in a sleep­ing bag to max­i­mize the skin-to-skin con­tact and to keep the heat next to the per­son with hy­pother­mia. If they are con­scious, you can give them warm bev­er­ages such as wa­ter or soup to im­me­di­ately raise their in­ter­nal body tem­per­a­ture. In se­vere cases, get the vic­tim med­i­cal at­ten­tion as soon as you can.



De­hy­dra­tion is an in­jury com­monly thought to only be as­so­ci­ated with hot weather, but it can also af­flict you in cold weather.

It is the re­sult of los­ing body flu­ids to such a point that nor­mal bod­ily func­tions slow down or stop com­pletely.

De­hy­dra­tion oc­curs when you lose ex­ces­sive amounts of body flu­ids through sweat­ing and other means and don’t re­place the wa­ter when drink­ing and eat­ing. Al­though you can watch mois­ture leave your body with ev­ery ex­haled breath, most peo­ple do not re­al­ize how much they sweat dur­ing cold weather, be­cause they don’t feel hot. As a re­sult, they don’t feel the need to drink more flu­ids.

Symp­toms in­clude darker urine, headache, dry mouth and tongue, stom­ach cramps, men­tal slug­gish­ness and, in later stages, un­con­scious­ness.


The treat­ment is to drink more liq­uids, such as wa­ter or soup, and rest. Warm liq­uids are best, es­pe­cially in cold weather. Do not try eat­ing snow; you get lit­tle liq­uid from it, and it can also cool your core. In ad­di­tion, avoid any­thing with caf­feine (cof­fee, tea, soft or en­ergy drinks) and al­co­hol, be­cause they in­crease de­hy­dra­tion. Drink wa­ter reg­u­larly to stay hy­drated—don’t wait un­til you are thirsty. By that time, you are al­ready get­ting de­hy­drated. Check your urine to see if you are start­ing to de­hy­drate.


Cold-weather in­juries are easy to in­cur. For­tu­nately, they are also easy to avoid and treat, es­pe­cially if you know what to look for. Dress in lay­ers—as ap­pro­pri­ate for the weather— keep ex­posed skin cov­ered, stay hy­drated, and wear sun­glasses and lip balm.

Above: You don’t have to be sweaty to get hy­pother­mia. Ex­po­sure to cold, wind and rain can sap the heat from your body, too. Keep your head and hands cov­ered, and pro­tect your­self from the wind to avoid loss of body heat and the on­set of hy­pother­mia. (Photo: Me­dia. De­

Right: A good pair of sun­glasses is a vi­tal piece of kit to have in any win­ter­time out­door ac­tiv­ity. They pro­tect your eyes from bright light re­flected off of snow and ice and also from cold win­ter winds. (Photo: Px­here. com)

The Inuit and oth­ers who lived in the frozen ex­panse of the north­ern tier of North Amer­ica fash­ioned gog­gles like these with nar­row slits that pro­vided vis­i­bil­ity while also greatly re­duc­ing the amount of UV light that could en­ter the eye. (Photo:

Right: A wick­ing base layer is your first line of de­fense against hy­pother­mia. It moves sweat away from your skin so it can evap­o­rate with­out cool­ing you down. (Photo: Sitk­

Tinted and po­lar­ized ski googles are a great choice, even if you are not ski­ing, for pro­tect­ing your eyes from bright light and cold weather. Photo: Far right: While this case of sun­burn hasn’t pro­gressed to blis­ter­ing, the top layer of skin has died and is peel­ing off of this man’s back and shoul­ders. (Photo: Wikimedia. org)

Above: These are frost­bit­ten hands. The red­den­ing of the skin is caused by ex­po­sure and the cre­ation of blis­ters where the skin is start­ing to freeze. (Photo: Left: Wear ap­pro­pri­ate pro­tec­tion on your ex­trem­i­ties, such as these in­su­lated boots, when­ever ven­tur­ing outdoors in cold weather.

Frost­bite can be a both­er­some type of in­jury, with red­den­ing and numb­ing of the skin. How­ever, in ex­treme cases, where the tissue is ac­tu­ally frozen, it can re­sult in loss of fingers or toes.

Be­low: This Marine has the right mix of cloth­ing and gear for cold-weather op­er­a­tions: lay­ers of cloth­ing to help man­age body heat. Gloves and bal­a­clava help keep heat from es­cap­ing, and sun­glasses pro­tect his eyes from ex­po­sure and snow blind­ness. (Photo:

Wear­ing the right clothes for the weather is one of the keys to stay­ing warm and avoid­ing cold-weather in­juries. (Photo: Larry Schwartz)

One of the key el­e­ments of cloth­ing you need for cold weather is some­thing that will keep heat in and cold wind out. Rain gear, ei­ther breath­able or non-breath­able, is an ex­cel­lent way to ac­com­plish both of those goals.

Sun­burn can af­fect your lips, as well as your skin. A tube of lip balm should be a con­stant part of your out­door gear, both in sum­mer and in win­ter. It also makes for an ex­cel­lent fire starter when you mix it with your tin­der. (Photo:

Sport drinks are de­signed to re­place not only flu­ids, but nu­tri­ents and elec­trolytes, as well, so they are ex­cel­lent choices for fight­ing de­hy­dra­tion. (Photo:

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