What to do for exposure to cold temperature?

Exposure to cold temperature can occur if outside in windy, wet or cold weather. This can also occur if spending time in a building that is not properly heated during cold weather.

Common injuries from cold temperature exposure

  • Frostnip – this affects the skin on the ears, face or fingertips which causes numbness or bluish-white skin color for a brief time, but normal color and sensation returns rapidly if the individual is warmed. This does not involve lasting tissue damage.
  • Frostbite – involves freezing of the skin and tissues beneath the skin due to temperatures below freezing. The affected skin appears pale or bluish and feels numb, cold, stiff and rubbery to the touch.
    Cold temperature exposure

    Hypothermia develops if the body loses heat rapidly than what it can produce.

  • Cold injuries such as chilblains or trench foot – cause pale and blistered skin the same as frostbite after the skin has warmed. These conditions occur after spending long time in cold, but not temperatures that are freezing. The skin does not become frozen.
  • Eye discomfort or pain as well as vision alterations due to cold temperature exposure typically occur among those who attempt to strain their eyes open during strong winds, cold weather or while engaging in activities such as cross-country skiing or snowmobiling. Snow blindness is not directly due to cold temperature exposure but can occur in snowy conditions. The sunlight that reflects off the snow can cause a corneal injury or burn.
  • Hypothermia develops if the body loses heat rapidly than what it can produce. The initial symptoms include shivering, clumsiness, apathy, poor judgement and cold, pale or bluish skin.

What are the risk factors for cold temperature exposure?

There are various factors that increases the risk for injuries from cold temperature exposure such as:

  • Infants and elderly
  • Consuming alcoholic beverages
  • Staying outdoors such as in windy or high altitudes, wet weather or being submerged in cold water
  • Being tired
  • Dehydration
  • Not properly dressed, wearing wet clothing or having wet skin
  • Having certain health risks

Many individuals can end up with cold hands or feet that can be bothersome but not a serious health issue.

Disclaimer / More Information

The information posted on this page on exposure to cold temperature is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to deal with environmental emergencies including cold exposure, register for first aid training at one of our training centers located throughout Canada. The training centers are in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Kelowna, Surrey, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax.

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