Avoid Cold Weather Injury

February 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Trail Boss Articles

Winter is still with us and many areas not used to severe winter weather are getting hit and it is staying cold. If you don’t know the threat cold weather brings, you can’t work well in it or take care of common problems like you can in a more The Buffalotemperate climate.  Throughout history even our troops have not been immune to cold weather.

The most important preventive measure is planning for the cold weather no matter where you live. Make sure you have accurate weather information before leaving home. Cold wind and rain can be worse than blowing snow since wet conditions and wind-chill greatly increase chance of injury. Then:

  • Ensure that you have appropriate cold-weather clothing with you and stored in your home. The most important individual preventive measure is the proper wearing of cold-weather clothing and boots. Some think wearing every piece of cold-weather clothing they can get their hands on is the way to go. This can cause sweating and dehydration, and restrict circulation in the extremities which can increase the risk of frostbite.
  • All cold-weather clothing should be worn loose and in layers. This allows for insulation by air trapped between the layers. Socks should be changed frequently and boots rotated if possible, you can take an extra pair of shoes to be worn inside while your boots dry out.
  • Proper wearing of boots is important. Do not wear street or gym shoes in the snow, and  cold-weather boots should not be worn indoors then out. Wet or damp boots need to be dried with warm air when possible. If boots are removed at night and moisture in them freezes, it can be like sticking your feet in ice cubes the next day, so bring them in to dry do not leave them on the stoop just to avoid the mess.
  • It is important to protect the hands and fingers by wearing proper cold-weather/water-resistant gloves.

Typical cold-weather injuries include dehydration, chilblain, immersion foot or trench foot, frostbite, and hypothermia.

Dehydration is caused by a depletion of body fluids; symptoms include dizziness, weakness and blurred vision. First aid treatment is to replace lost water, which should be sipped, not gulped, and to seek medical treatment.

Chilblain is caused by repeated exposure of bare skin for a long period of time to temperatures from 20 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of the symptoms are skin that is swollen, red (or darkening of the skin in dark-skinned soldiers), tender or hot. Itching may accompany any or all of these symptoms. First-aid treatment is to warm the affected area with direct body heat. Do not massage or rub the affected area; do not wet the area or rub it with snow or ice; and do not expose the affected area to open fire, stove or any other intense heat source.

Immersion foot, which is commonly known as trench foot, is caused by prolonged exposure of feet to wet conditions at temperatures of 32 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, inactivity and damp socks and boots (or tightly laced boots that weaken circulation, which speeds onset and severity).

Symptoms of trench foot are cold, numb feet, which may progress to hot with shooting pains and swelling, redness and bleeding. If you suspect trench foot, get medical help immediately. Re-warm feet by exposing them to warm air, and evacuate the victim to a medical treatment facility. Do not massage, rub, moisten or expose the affected area to extreme heat.

Frostbite is caused by freezing of tissue, normally due to exposure to temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Body parts that are most often affected include fingers, toes, ears and facial parts. Symptoms of frostbite are numbness; tingling; blistering; swelling or tenderness; pale, yellowish, waxy-looking skin (grayish in dark-skinned soldiers); and frozen skin that feels wooden to the touch.

Frostbite is a medical emergency. Consult medical personnel immediately and evacuate the victim as soon as possible. If not treated properly, frostbite can lead to gangrene and amputation. If you suspect frostbite, you must start first aid immediately. Warm the affected area with direct body heat. Do not thaw the frozen areas if treatment will be delayed; do not massage or rub the affected areas; do not wet the area or rub it with snow or ice; and do not expose the affected area to open fire, stove or any other intense heat source.

Hypothermia is caused by prolonged cold exposure and body-heat loss. Hypothermia may occur at temperatures well above freezing, especially when a person is immersed in water. Symptoms include a lack of shivering, drowsiness, mental slowness and lack of coordination. This can progress to unconsciousness, irregular heartbeat and even death.

By knowing some of the other factors that can contribute to or prevent cold injury, you can further protect yourself.

  • Previous cold injuries. People with previous cold injuries are more susceptible to another one. These soldiers must be identified, and first-line supervisors should monitor them closely.
  • Tobacco. Nicotine—regardless if it comes from a cigarette, snuff, pipe, or cigar—causes blood vessels to constrict. Tobacco decreases circulation and increases your risk for injury, especially in the hands and feet.
  • Alcohol and caffeine. These can lead to increased urination and subsequent dehydration.
  • Skipped meals. If you skip meals, the first thing the body does is to slow the metabolism. Slower metabolism means less heat production and increased chance of cold injury.
  • Inactivity. Huddling up and not moving is the wrong thing to do. The more you move the more heat you produce. Decreased activity decreases the time it takes to get an injury.

In addition to avoiding these contributing factors, you can prevent cold injury through these means:

  • Watch your children. Children do not always know when it is time to come in. Keep an eye on them to help prevent injuries train yourself what to look for.
  • Self-checks. A simple self-check is to pinch the fingernail and watch how fast the blood returns to your finger. The slower the return the higher the potential for a cold injury to the fingers or toes.

Prevention is the key, all cold-weather injuries are preventable, if you or a loved one are injured you can only blame that person looking back at you in the mirror.

Copyright © 2010 by Steven L. Doran

All rights reserved under international and Pan-American copyright conventions. No part of this article may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means without written permission from the author Steven L. Doran.

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2 Comments on "Avoid Cold Weather Injury"

  1. Ed Harris on Fri, 19th Feb 2010 1:44 PM 

    Another important factor in winter operations is hypothermia awareness, prevention of cold weather exposure injuries and prompt treatment of affected personnel.

    Prevention = COLD — Cover, Overexertion, Layers, Dry

    Cover.
    Wear a hat or other protective covering to prevent body heat from escaping from your head, face and neck. Cover your hands with mittens instead of gloves. Mittens are more effective than gloves because mittens keep your fingers in closer contact with one another.

    Overexertion.
    Avoid activities that would cause you to sweat a lot. The combination of wet clothing and cold weather can cause you to lose body heat more quickly.

    Layers.
    Wear loosefitting, layered, lightweight clothing. Outer clothing made of tightly woven, water-repellent material is best for wind protection. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers hold body heat better than cotton does.

    Dry.
    Stay as dry as possible. Get out of wet clothing as soon as possible. Be especially careful to keep your hands and feet dry, as it’s easy for snow to get into mittens and boots.

    Winter car safety.
    During cold-weather months, keep emergency supplies in your car in case you get stranded. Supplies may include several wool blankets (which are still warm when wet), matches, candles, a first-aid kit, dry or canned food, and a can opener. Travel with a cell phone if possible. If stranded, put everything you need in the car with you, huddle together and stay covered. Run the car for 10 minutes each hour to warm it up. Make sure a window is slightly open and the exhaust pipe isn’t covered with snow while the engine is running.

    Cold-water safety.
    Water doesn’t have to be extremely cold to cause hypothermia. Any water colder than body temperature causes heat loss. The following tips may increase your survival time in cold water, if you accidentally fall in:

    Wear your PFD. It enables you to float without using energy and provides some insulation. ALWAYS attach a utility knife, whistle, LED blinker, whistle and signal mirror to your PFD.

    Get out of the water if possible. Get out of the water as much as possible, such as climbing onto a capsized boat or grabbing onto a floating object.

    Don’t attempt to swim unless you’re close to safety. Unless a boat, another person or a life jacket is close by, stay put. Swimming uses up energy and shortens survival time. Position your body to minimize heat loss. Use the heat escape lessening position (HELP) to reduce heat loss while you wait for rescue assistance. Hold your knees to your chest to protect the trunk of your body. If you’re wearing a life jacket that turns your face down in this position, bring your legs tightly together, your arms to your sides and your head back.

    Huddle with others. If you’ve fallen into cold water with other people, keep warm by facing each other in a tight circle.

    Don’t remove clothing. While in the water, don’t remove clothing. Buckle, button and zip up your clothes. Cover your head if possible. The layer of water between your clothing and your body will help insulate you. Remove clothing only after you’re safely out of the water and can take measures to get dry and warm.

    The recommended treatment of hypothermia in the field is core rewarming to prevent post-rescue collapse.

    Handle victim gently. Limit movements to only those that are necessary. Don’t massage. Excessive, vigorous or jarring movements may trigger cardiac arrest.

    Move the person out of the cold into warm, dry location if possible. If unable to move indoors shield victm from cold and wind as much as possible.

    Remove wet clothing. Cut away clothing if necessary to avoid excessive movement.

    Cover victim with blankets. Use multiple layers of dry blankets or coats to warm the person. Cover the head also, leaving only the face exposed.

    Insulate victim from cold ground. If outside, lay victim on the back on a blanket or other warm or insulating surface.

    Monitor breathing. Victims severe hypothermia appear unconscious, with no apparent signs of a pulse or breathing. If breathing has stopped or appears dangerously low or shallow, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately.

    Share body heat. Lie next to victim, making skin-to-skin contact. Then cover both of your bodies with blankets.
    Provide warm beverages if victim is alert and able to swallow. Avoid alcohol or caffeinated beverages.

    Apply warm, dry compresses only to the neck, chest wall or groin, not to extremties. Heat applied to arms and legs forces cold blood back toward the heart, lungs and brain, reducing core body temperature to drop and may induce cardicac arrest.

    Don’t apply direct heat. Don’t use hot water, a heating pad or a heating lamp to warm the person. The extreme heat can burn the skin or induce cardiac arrest.

  2. Robert on Fri, 19th Feb 2010 4:13 PM 

    This guy looks like that cowboy Richard Boone, where did you get the photo ?

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