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VOL. 14 NO. 1
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Cold weather injuries

Tips to stay safe in the winter months

Cold weather injuries

Pay attention to the weather. Just like during boating season, being aware of the predicted weather could save your life by giving you a chance to prepare for bad weather or, better yet, avoid it altogether.

Damp cold vs. dry cold

It’s not just the ambient temperature that needs to be noted; it’s the wind and the water as well. Cold temperatures are magnified by the wind, windchill can kill, and a dry cold is far more tolerable than a damp cold.

Fairbanks, Alaska, is so far inland that there’s no large body of water to moderate the temperature. It’s dry, and there’s usually no wind. The cold in Fairbanks is surprisingly tolerable even down to 20 or 30 degrees below zero. On the other hand, in Bethel, Alaska, the effects of the Bering Sea produce strong winds across the tundra and 20 degrees Fahrenheit is downright dangerous with a 20- to 30-knot breeze. Frostbite and hypothermia are common there. In Louisiana, it’s so humid, even in the winter, that temperatures above freezing are dangerously cold.

Know what to wear  

Dress in layers. Moisture, in terms of sweat and rain, are killers in cold weather. Avoid sweating at all costs. Dressing in layers allows you to shed clothes when you are active and put them on when you are at rest. Wear a base layer that is designed to wick moisture away from your skin. A middle layer should provide insulation. The outer layer should be water- and wind-proof to keep deadly rain and wind chills off your skin.

Wear a hat. You lose a tremendous amount of heat through your head, face and neck. Cover your skin with a face mask, goggles, socks and mittens (better than gloves). Exposed skin is far more likely to freeze and result in frostbite.

As your body tries to conserve heat, it will shunt circulation from your extremities to your core. Garments with sleeves are far more effective than vests at keeping the core warm.

Cover your mouth and nose to minimize breathing painfully cold air into your lungs. A neck tube or gaiter is far safer than a scarf. The loose end of a scarf is a strangulation hazard if it gets caught on a ski lift, a car door, or in an escalator’s rubber railing.

Keep your house between 65 degrees and 70 degrees Fahrenheit and wear enough clothes to keep you warm while at home. Be sure to eat enough food so that your body can produce the energy it needs to provide warmth. Winter is not the time to diet. The body needs available calories to produce energy.

Ask your doctor if your medications may make you more susceptible to cold injury, and check on your elderly family members and friends frequently to be sure they are safe during the winter months.

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