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Health Unit offers tips for staying safe in the cold weather

SIMCOE, JANUARY 22, 2013 – The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is warning people to be careful during the current cold snap that has set in across Southern Ontario, and is offering some tips on how to handle frosty changes in temperature.

During very cold weather, everyone is at risk; however the elderly, infants and children, people taking certain prescription medications, and people with pre-existing health conditions are in greater danger. There is also an increased risk of hypothermia for outdoor workers and people living without adequate heat or shelter.

In temperatures, including the wind chill, of -15°C or colder, unprotected skin can freeze in less than 30 minutes, and the risk of developing hypothermia is very high. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends keeping children indoors if the temperature falls below -25°C, or below -28°C when including the wind chill factor.

“Since older adults and young children are more vulnerable to cold weather injuries, it’s best if they limit or postpone their outdoor activities unless absolutely necessary,” said Joanne Alessi, injury prevention co-ordinator with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.

Alessi also explained that hypothermia and frostbite are the most serious threats from exposure to the cold, but these injuries can largely be prevented by dressing properly and using common sense when heading out in extremely cold weather.

Cold-related injuries, including frostbite and hypothermia, can be avoided by following these cold weather safety tips:

  • Be aware of the weather forecast so that you can dress appropriately and be ready for the cold weather.
  • Wear a warm hat, as 30 to 40 per cent of your body’s heat escapes through your head.
  • Dress in layers of loose-fitting clothing. This will trap air and provide good insulation. The inner layer should be absorbent; the middle layer(s) warm; and the outer layer water repellent and wind resistant.
  • Leave as little skin exposed to the cold wind as possible when outdoors.
  • Sweating increases heat loss, so remove layers whenever you feel too warm.
  • If clothing becomes wet, change into dry clothes as soon as possible.
  • Dehydration can occur through the skin and lungs as a result of dryness in the cold air. Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar as these fluids will actually cause you to lose more body fluid.
  • Take the wind-chill factor into account. Plan routes that keep the wind at your back.
  • Watch for fatigue. Don’t push yourself in extremely cold weather.
  • Be aware of the early signs of frostbite: white or gray spots on skin or areas having lost feeling. Tingling and pain can also be a warning sign of frost bite usually in the hands, feet, nose and ears.
  • Beware of the early signs of hypothermia: unable to think clearly, shivering, loss of memory, lethargy slurred speech or loss of consciousness. Immediate medical attention is required.
  • Be aware of the dangers of using an oven or space heater as a heating device.
  • If you are taking your dog for a walk or a “bathroom break,” stay out with them. If you’re cold enough to go inside, it probably is too cold for the pet to stay out longer as well.

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Media Contact:
Joanne Alessi, RN, BScN
Injury Prevention Coordinator
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
(905)318-5367 ext. 330