The Northwestern Health Unit is warning residents to be prepared for the winter season, in advance of dropping temperatures on the horizon.

“When temperatures reach -28oC or below, with or without the wind chill, the risk of a cold-related injury such as frostbite or hypothermia becomes much higher. For example, in -28oC, exposed skin can freeze in 10-30 minutes, or even sooner if the wind speed is faster” says Thomas Nabb, Manager of Environmental Health.

Cold-related injuries include frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite is a condition where the freezing of skin and underlying tissues occurs. Signs and symptoms of frostbite include pale or waxy skin, swelling or blistering of the skin, or numbness or pain on the area.

Hypothermia is a condition where the core body temperature drops below 35oC due to cold exposure. As the body loses heat, internal organs begin to shut down. Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, slurred speech, weakness, confusion, pale skin colour, and slow, shallow breathing.

The health unit reminds residents that cold-related injuries are medical emergencies. They say that you should call 911 immediately if you show the above symptoms, or if symptoms are present for someone that you are caring for – if they’ve been exposed to cold temperatures.

Populations at greater risk of cold-related injuries include: infants and children, elderly, people with chronic conditions (i.e. heart diseases, respiratory diseases, or asthma), outdoor workers, sports enthusiasts, people who are homeless, and people lacking proper shelter, clothing or food.

The health unit offered the following safety tips for residents:

- Dress in layers of warm clothing, ensure extremities are covered with a hat, scarf, insulated gloves, and waterproof boots.

- Stay dry, stay active, and try to reduce times of outdoor activity.

- Be sure to check ears, nose, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes for signs of frostbite.

- Try to reschedule or cancel any planned outdoor activity if possible and keep infants and children inside.

- Also, be sure to check frequently on people at risk greater risk of cold-related injuries.

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