July 19th, 2024

Cold weather puts bodies at risk

By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on January 9, 2024.

Herald photo by Theodora MacLeod Bundled up to fight the cold, a pedestrian walks through Galt Gardens on Monday, what was expected to be the warmest day of the week.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, and anyone with firsthand experience will confirm, there is nothing delightful about frostbite and other cold induced conditions.

Windburn, frostbite, and hypothermia all pose serious risks to the health of those exposed to extreme cold.

The lower the temperature dips and the longer the exposure, the higher the risk of harm to the body.

This means those working outside, experiencing homelessness/inadequate shelter, and winter sports enthusiasts all face an increased risk of bodily harm thanks to the chilly temperatures.

But those with health conditions such as diabetes, disorders involving the blood vessels, respiratory illness, and people taking beta-blockers should also be more cautious; the frigid cold can also cause increased harm to seniors- those over the age of 65- and infants under one year old, as well as anyone who is just plain underdressed.

If ever there were a time to stay inside snuggled in the coziest of blankets with a hot cup of tea, this week is it. Daytime temperatures are expected to dip below -27C on Friday with the cold lasting throughout the weekend. The low Friday is forecast to be -35.

While the cold itself can do a lot of damage, Lethbridge locals know that wind is just as impactful, if not more. According to information released by Health Canada, “a wind chill can cause your body to lose heat faster and your skin to freeze very quickly.”

With similar sensation to a sunburn, windburn leaves the skin feeling dry, red, and sore and is the result of cold wind stripping oil from the surface of the skin.

Rubbing the affected area can make it worth, however applying a thick ointment or cream that is approved for sensitive skin can help treat the condition.

Hypothermia is among the most dangerous of cold weather maladies and occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can be produced. Warning signs of hypothermia in adults include drowsiness, confusion, slurred speech, shivering, and a lack of coordination.

Anyone experiencing those symptoms is advised to immediately find shelter if available and keep the body moving. Use blankets or dry clothing to rewarm the body. In the event there are no blankets available, skin to skin body contact with another person can help increase core temperature. Drinking warm, sweet liquids can also help increase the body’s temperature. In the event of severe symptoms, seek medical care immediately.

Frostbite occurs when blood vessels that constrict to protect the body’s core temperature from dropping result in restricted circulation due to extreme cold exposure.

Mild frostbite often leaves skin looking yellow or white while remaining soft to the touch. It can be treated with either direct warming such as applying heat directly to the affected area or gradually warming the entire body. Severe frostbite poses a substantial risk and can cause permanent damage if not treated immediately.

The skin may appear black and nerve damage can cause a loss of sensation that only worsens the effects. In some of the most severe cases, severe frostbite can result in the need for amputation. Immediate medical attention is required, and warming measures should be taken while waiting for help to arrive.

With any extreme weather the key to survival is preparedness. Dress in layers incorporating wool and synthetics that wick away moisture and a water/wind proof outer layer.

Remove and replace any clothing that gets wet as soon as possible as heat is lost at a faster rate when the body is wet. And of course, donning the usual winter weather gear like scarves, mittens/gloves and toques is a must, as frostbite is most likely to occur on the parts furthest from the heart.

Intoxication can increase the risk of all cold weather conditions as both alcohol and illicit substances impact the ability to experience and note sensations associated with frostbite and hypothermia.

Those requiring assistance, or who see another in distress are advised to contact emergency services.

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