Extreme Cold

Extreme cold happens when temperatures drop below the average for that time of year. Exposure to cold temperatures can cause serious and sometimes even life-threatening health problems.

Who is at risk?

During extremely cold weather, everyone is at risk. However, some groups are more vulnerable than others:

  • children and infants
  • seniors
  • homeless people
  • outdoor workers
  • skiers
  • ice skaters
  • people living in poorly insulated homes
  • people living in homes without power
  • people with asthma

What are the health effects of extreme cold?

Frostbite

  • Frostbite usually affects the hands, legs, and fingers.
  • It can cause numbness, pain, swelling and blistering.
  • If you think frostbite has set in, don’t rub or massage the area. Instead, warm up the area slowly with warm compresses or your own body.
  • If toes or feet are frostbitten, try not to walk on them.

Hypothermia

  • Hypothermia occurs when the body’s normal temperature is less than 35°C.
  • Symptoms may include:
    • shivering
    • confusion
    • weakness
    • mumbling
    • low energy
    • pale skin colour 
  • If you think someone has hypothermia, remove their wet clothing and bring them to a warm place. Warm the person gradually with several layers of blankets.

If you or someone you know experiences any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

What can you do?

  • Cover exposed skin, which can become frostbitten in 30 seconds.
  • Wear a hat (you can lose up to 40% of your body heat through your head).
  • Wear gloves.
  • Wear a scarf to protect the chin, lips and cheeks.
  • Keep children indoors if the temperature falls below –25°C, or if the wind chill is –28°C or greater.
  • Drink warm fluids, avoiding caffeinated or alcoholised beverages.
  • Wear clothes in layers.
  • Find shelter from the wind to reduce wind exposure.
  • Listen to the weather forecast and plan ahead! If there is an extreme cold or wind chill warning, do what you can to stay inside.

Sources:
Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit
Canadian Paediatric Society

Links


Eastern Ontatio Health Unit / Bureau de santé de l'Ontario