Extreme cold can harm your health. Skin exposed to very cold temperatures can get windburn or frostbite. If our bodies become too cold, hypothermia can set in. This is a very serious health problem that can be life threatening.
Who’s at Risk
While everyone is at risk during extreme cold, some people are more vulnerable to windburn, frostbite and hypothermia than others. This may be because they spend more time in the cold or because of differences in their bodies. People who may be at greater risk include:
- People in unstable housing situations
- Outdoor workers
- People living in homes that are poorly insulated (with no heat or no power)
- People with certain medical conditions affecting the blood vessels
- People taking certain medications, such as beta-blockers
- Winter sport enthusiasts
- Infants (under 1 year)
- Older adults (65 years or older)
Symptoms of Cold-Related Illness
There are three main health risks related to extreme cold:
It’s important to know the symptoms of these cold-related illnesses so that you can warm up to prevent injury and harm to your health.
How to Protect Yourself
Stay warm! Follow these tips to protect yourself from cold related illness.
- Wear appropriate clothing – synthetic and wool fabrics provide better insulation
- Dress in layers – wear warm socks, gloves, a hat and scarf covering your nose
- If you get wet, change into dry clothing as soon as possible – you lose heat faster when wet
Protect your skin
- On sunny days wear sunglasses, lip balm and sunscreen to protect your skin from UV rays and keep it moisturized to help prevent windburn
- Wear a face mask and goggles if you are participating in winter activities
Drink lots of fluids
- When it’s cold, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
- Avoid caffeine, which can cause you to become dehydrated
Avoid drugs and alcohol
- Drinking alcohol in the cold can increase your risk of getting hypothermia
- If you are taking medication or have a health condition, ask your healthcare provider if it increases your health risk in the cold and follow their recommendations
- Keep moving to keep your blood flowing and maintain your body heat
- Know the weather conditions and pay attention to Environment and Climate Change Canada weather alerts – when it’s very cold, limit time spent outdoors
- Winterize your home
Extreme Cold Warnings
Sometimes, outdoor temperatures can be extreme. When this happens, you are at greater risk of cold-related illnesses, including frostbite, windburn and hypothermia. It’s important to take steps to stay warm.
CK Public Health issues an extreme cold warning when Environment and Climate Change Canada has forecasted that the temperature or wind chill is expected to reach minus 30°C for at least 2 hours.
You can find active cold alerts here.