Protect yourself from Jack Frost

January 5, 2018

Public Health’s mandate is to keep people safe and as healthy as they can be. This helps lift the load of the rest of the health care system. But Public Health can’t control the weather so here is some important information about what to do in extreme cold weather.

Exposure to extreme cold can be divided into two categories


  • This is when the skin and sometimes the fat and muscle underneath the skin freeze.
  • Most common parts of the body affected are the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes.
  • It can cause permanent damage and in severe cases lead to amputation.
  • Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:
    • a white or grayish-yellow skin area
    • skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
    • numbness
  • People are often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.


  • This is a medical emergency.
  • The body temperature is less than 35°C.
  • Mild symptoms include shivering, exhaustion, slurred speech, drowsiness, fumbling hands or unsteady gait and confusion.
  • Severe symptoms include slowing of heart rate and breathing leading to coma and eventually death.

How to help someone with a cold injury


  • Get medical attention as soon as possible.
  • At the first sign of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect the exposed skin.
  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Remove any wet clothing.
  • Do not rub or massage the area as it causes more damage.
  • Warm the area gradually by using body heat such as an armpit, or warm water (40 to 42oC).
  • Do not use direct heat (heating pad, heat lamp, radiator) which can burn the skin.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes.


  • Get medical attention as soon as possible.
  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Remove any wet clothing.
  • Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin.
  • Use warm blankets, towels, wrapped hot water bottles or heating pads, or skin to skin contact to warm a person while waiting for medical help.
  • If a person is awake, warm drinks can help.
  • Do not drink alcoholic beverages.

How to avoid a cold related injury

Listen to the weather forecast

  • Check the Environment Canada weather forecast before going out in the cold
  • If conditions are hazardous, an extreme cold warning may be issued.
  • If the wind chill is very cold, exposed skin can freeze in minutes.

Plan Ahead

  • Groups and organizations should develop a plan in advance, to ensure that safety concerns are addressed when the wind chill is high.
  • For example, schools could hold recess indoors, outside workers could schedule warm-up breaks, and those involved in winter recreation could reduce the amount of time they spend outdoors.

Dress warmly

  • Wear layers of warm clothing, with an outer jacket that is wind-resistant. Mittens, boots and a hat are also important.
  • When the wind chill is high, try to cover as much exposed skin as possible.
  • Wear a scarf, neck tube or face mask.
  • Check frequently for signs of frostbite

Stay dry/Stay active

  • Wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Remove wet clothing if possible.
  • Remove outer layers of clothing or open your coat if you are sweating.

Know the limits

  • Stay out of the wind.
  • Limit time spent outside during extreme cold.
  • The elderly and children lose heat faster. They should not spend as long outside as younger adults in cold temperatures.
  • Alcohol, tobacco and certain medications will increase your susceptibility to cold.

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