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
- homeless people
- outdoor workers
- 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 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 occurs when the body’s normal temperature is less than 35°C.
- Symptoms may include:
- 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.
Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit
Canadian Paediatric Society