As we head into the start of winter, inclement weather and frigid temperatures can bring a slew of problems. These can range from driving hazards to serious health and safety issues. Knowing how to identify these problems and prevent injury can save your life. Let’s start with below-freezing health hazards.

When the temperatures fall, our bodies know what to do to keep our internal organs safe. These come in the form of mechanisms to keep our core temperature up. Shivering is an example of this. But prolonged exposure to cold and the elements can lead to other complications including:

Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing the core body temperature to drop to a dangerously low level. This condition is often associated with exposure to cold weather, water or wind and can set in very quickly.

Example of chilblains

Chilblains are inflammatory skin lesions that occur as a response to repeated exposure to cold air. They are often characterized by red or purple discoloration, swelling, itching and pain in the affected areas. Chilblains occur when the skin is exposed to cold temperatures, followed by rapid warming. This abrupt temperature change can cause small blood vessels to break, leading to inflammation and the other symptoms of chilblains.

Frostbite occurs when skin and other tissues freeze due to exposure to extremely cold temperatures. When the body is exposed to freezing conditions, the skin and underlying tissues can freeze leading to ice crystal formation within cells.

Common symptoms of frostbite include numbness, tingling or pain in the affected extremities (usually fingers, toes, nose or ears). The skin may appear pale, hardened and waxy. In severe cases, blisters may form, and the affected areas may turn black due to tissue death.

It’s essential to seek immediate medical attention if frostbite is suspected. Treatment involves gradually warming the affected areas, and in severe cases, medical professionals may need to intervene to prevent complications such as infection or tissue damage.

When driving: When in the car, remember, all winter weather impacts your ability to drive. Ice and snow reduce your stopping ability, hinder visibility and compromise your vehicle’s traction. Below are driving tips to remember as you prepare for winter driving.

  • Check fluids and battery – Ensure that your vehicle’s fluids, including antifreeze are at appropriate levels. A well-maintained battery is crucial in cold weather.
  • Check brakes and signal lights – Make sure your brakes and turn signal lights are in good working order.
  • Drive cautiously and increase following distance – In winter conditions, roads can be slippery and visibility may be reduced. Drive at a slower speed than usual to allow for increased reaction time.
  • Avoid sudden maneuvers – Smooth and gradual movements are key to maintaining control on slippery surfaces.
  • Pack an emergency kit – In case you get stranded, having blankets and warm clothing can help you stay comfortable while waiting for assistance. Include a snow shovel, ice scraper, jumper cables and a flashlight with extra batteries.

Whether you’re an avid outdoor enthusiast or simply navigating the chill on your daily commute, knowing the issues that winter brings can help you stay safe when at home, work, in transit or in the event of an unplanned emergency.

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