DON’T BE A COLD-WEATHER CASUALTY
PREVENT AND TREAT COMMON WINTER INJURIES.
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.
SNOW BLINDNESS REMEDIES
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
SUNBURN IS NORMALLY ASSOCIATED WITH THE SUMMER MONTHS, BUT IT IS STILL A SERIOUS CONCERN DURING THE COLD WEATHER.
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.
FROSTBITE OCCURS WHEN YOUR SKIN, EITHER OPEN TO THE ENVIRONMENT OR COVERED, IS EXPOSED TO FREEZING TEMPERATURES.
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 OCCURS WHEN YOU LOSE EXCESSIVE AMOUNTS OF BODY FLUIDS THROUGH SWEATING AND OTHER MEANS AND DON’T REPLACE THE WATER WHEN DRINKING AND EATING.
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.
DEALING WITH DEHYDRATION
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.
AVOID AND TREAT
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. Defense.gov)
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: Wikimedia.org)
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: Sitkagear.com)
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: Wikimedia.org) 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: Wikimedia.org) 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: Dodlive.mil)
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: Wikimedia.org)
Sport drinks are designed to replace not only fluids, but nutrients and electrolytes, as well, so they are excellent choices for fighting dehydration. (Photo: Wikimedia.org)