Surviving the arctic freeze – tips to keep you warm in cold weather

When the temperatures start to plummet, like they have for a lot of the country this week, it’s time to turn up the heat and take important safety precautions to weather the storm. Frigid temperatures put everyone – especially the very young and old – at risk for frostbite and hypothermia.

It only takes five minutes for skin to freeze in sub-zero weather, so it’s important to know what signs to watch for and how to protect yourself.

When you start shivering, that’s the first sign that you need some extra warmth. Your extremities including fingers, toes and nose start to turn red. These are all ordinary signs that it’s cold outside. But once your fingertips start to hurt, tingle or feel numb – that’s a sign that frostbite is near. According to the Mayo Clinic, frostbite occurs when your skin and the tissue underneath it freeze. Skin becomes very cold, then numb and pale. It’s serious because it can lead to tissue and nerve damage.

Hypothermia is even more serious and occurs when your core body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. With hypothermia, your body loses heat faster that it can produce heat. This severe condition can cause your organs to shut down and leads to complete failure of the heart and respiratory system and eventually death. The first signs include tiredness, confusion and dehydration. Seek medical care if you or someone you know displays any of those signs after exposure to cold.

The obvious solution is to avoid being outdoors during extreme weather but if you can’t avoid it, here are a few tips:

  • Trap body heat with multiple layers of loose-fitting clothes. Experts recommend wearing at least three layers: one to wick moisture, one for insulation and one to protect from wind and rain. Read this article, Layering Basics, from REI for more precise tips.
  • Know your limits for outdoor exercise. Working up a sweat is a good thing, but being wet (even from sweat) is risky in sub-zero weather. It makes it harder to maintain your body temperature and increases the risk of hypothermia. The Huffington Post offers tips for creating a winter exercise plan that’s safe and enjoyable.
  • Protect your digits with insulated gloves or mittens. Your fingertips and other extremities will be the first to feel the effects of the cold. It’s important to keep them warm and dry.
  • Wear insulated, waterproof footwear and wool socks to ensure that your feet stay dry.
  • Heat escapes from your head so wear a hat –preferably one that covers your ears.
  • A long, thick scarf does double duty. It keeps your neck warm and it can be wrapped around your face as well.
  • Consider a face mask for extra protection. Your cheeks are especially susceptible to frostbite and are one of the first areas to feel the cold.

It’s not often that temperatures drop to the record lows that we’ve had this week. When they do, it’s more important than ever to keep exposure to a minimum. And when normal winter weather returns, these tips will allow you to enjoy all that the season has to offer. Stay safe and warm!

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