Winter is here, so now it’s time to start preparing to stay healthy and warm when venturing outside. During these months, cold injuries are very common and may even be fatal. Low temperatures alone can cause injuries, but when the wind is added, the chill factor becomes critical. If our body temperature falls two degrees below the normal 98.6 degrees F, we feel cold.
If body temperature falls seven degrees below normal, a person’s life is in danger. As the body cools, less blood flows to the shell (skin and muscles) of the body to preserve heat for the vital organs in the core of the body. This is the reason why the nose, ears, hands, and feet become injured first when we are outdoors in the cold.
A constant balance of heat loss and gain is required to maintain a stable body temperature and prevent cold injuries. Sixty-five percent (65%) of the heat the body produces is lost through uncovered warm body areas such as the head and neck. Twenty percent (20%) of heat loss is through evaporation (sweating and breathing).
If your job takes you outside, you may not be able to avoid the cold. Here are some tips to help combat extended exposure to the cold.
Dressing properly is a critical part in preventing cold injuries. The type of clothing should be geared toward the weather and provide a good insulation for the body to prevent chilling. It should be worn in layers so if a person becomes too warm or cold, a layer can be removed or added. It should not limit movement, be as lightweight as possible, and be made of a “wicking” material (allows sweat to move through the material to the outer layers of clothing to keep the body dry). The clothing made with the “wicking” material should be worn directly next to the skin for the best results.
The outer layer should be made of material that is wind and water-resistant to help increase insulation during windy and/or wet conditions. If breathing cold air is irritating, wearing a ski facemask or covering the mouth and nose with a free-hanging cloth may provide relief. When preparing to go outdoors for a long period of time in temperature that is below 32 degrees F (0 degrees C), it is good to add a layer of protective clothing for every 5 mph of wind.