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Healthy Environments

Conditions and Symptoms

Exposure to cold temperatures can cause serious or life-threatening health problems. During extreme cold, those most at risk include infants under one year of age, individuals 65 years of age or older, the homeless, outdoor workers, sport enthusiasts (skiers, ice skaters), people living in homes that are poorly insulated or without heat, and people living in homes without power (usually due to other weather-related events such as a winter storm).

Below is a chart listing extreme cold conditions and ways you can identify any health concerns.

 Condition Cause          Symptoms   Prevention       
Frostnip Mild form of frostbite where only the skin freezes
  • Skin appears yellowish or white.
  • Skin feels soft to the touch.
  • Experience painful tingling or burning sensation
  • Warm the area gradually using a warm hand or warm heat.
  • Do not rub the area and avoid using direct heat which can burn the skin.
  • Once the area is warm do not re-expose it to the cold. 

Most commonly affects the hands, legs, and fingers and can lead to serious health complications.

If you experience any of the symptoms listed, seek medical attention immediately

  • Pale grey, waxy textured skin in affected area (cold to the touch).
  • Numbness and localized pain.
  • Swelling and blistering
  • Do not rub or massage the affected area; that can cause more damage.
  • Warm up the area slowly with warm compresses or use your own body to re-warm the area (e.g. use your underarms to warm the hand of the opposite limb).
  • If toes or feet are frostbitten, try not to walk on them.
Hypothermia Occurs when the body’s normal temperature becomes too low (less than 35°C).

If you experience any of the symptoms listed, seek medical attention immediately. 

  • Shivering, confusion and/or weakness.
  • Mumbling, stumbling, and/or fumbling.
  • Pale skin colour (for infants, look for cold reddish skin and low energy).

Symptoms may be subtle in older persons

  • Gently remove wet clothing and get the person to a warm place as soon as possible.
  • Use several layers of blankets and warm the person gradually.
  • If the person is alert, give warm beverages, do not give alcohol.
Winter Asthma Asthma may be triggered because there’s an increased chance for respiratory infections and the air may be cold and dry.  
  • Hand wash often to stop the spread of germs.
  • Wear a scarf loosely over the mouth and nose.
  • Breathe through the nose when outdoors. This helps warm and humidify the air before it reaches the lungs.
  • Keep rescue inhalers close by and in a warm place. Use controller medication consistently; follow your asthma action plan.

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