Frostbite and hypothermia are very real possibilities during cold Saskatchewan winters, however, knowing how to best protect yourself and warning signs to watch for can save extremities or even a life.
Wind in the winter doesn’t actually change the outside temperature, it does however, affect skin temperature, especially unprotected skin and can cause frostbite if not monitored. Restricted blood flow, either due to certain illnesses, or by the body redirecting blood to the organs in cold weather, can put exposed areas at a higher risk of frostbite. Common areas affected by frostbite include fingers, cheeks, ears and nose, it is always advised to cover up these areas especially if a windchill is present.
Hypothermia can also pose a risk if the environment is suitable, which could end up being fatal. The Red Cross advises to cover your head and torso with tightly woven fabrics such as wool and to layer up when necessary. It is also advised to change out of wet clothes as soon as possible if you are in the cold outdoors as this can increase your risk.
The Red Cross outlined three different severity’s of hypothermia and what to watch for:
• Mild hypothermia – Shivering and complaining of cold, numbness in fingers and toes, body temperature slightly below normal.
• Moderate hypothermia – Shivering, numbness in fingers and toes, lack of coordination and/or speech, confused or unusual behaviour, impaired judgment.
• Severe – Person has stopped shivering and complaining of cold, lack of coordination and/or speech, confused or unusual behaviour, impaired judgment, glassy stare, body temperature below 30°C, breathing has slowed down or stopped, possible unconsciousness.
Windchill can increase the chance of both hypothermia and frostbite, however, the Red Cross states that windchill that is under -10oC have a low risk of either. -10oC to -27oC still poses a low risk of frostbite but there is a risk of hypothermia if exposed for long periods of time without proper clothing and protection.
After -28oC and down to -39oC, the risk of frostbite increases where your skin could freeze in 10 to 30 minutes, along with a higher risk of hypothermia. -40oC to -47oC could see skin freezing in five to 10 minutes and -48oC to -54oC has the potential to freeze skin in two to five minutes.
Symptoms of frostbite can start with numbing with paler coloured skin which could eventually become waxy in appearance. If you suspect frostbite on yourself or others, do not rub the area as it could make it worse and it is advised to re-warm the areas slowly and seek medical attention.
If hypothermia is suspected, if the person is alert, Red Cross recommends giving them sips of warm liquids to drink, warm the person by wrapping in blankets, covering the head and neck to warm the person slowly.
In all cases, it is always advised to contact a medical health professional or emergency services if either situation arises.