Extreme cold events occur when winter temperatures drop significantly below average for that time of the year. Exposure to cold temperatures, whether indoors or outside, can cause other serious or life-threatening health problems. To keep yourself and your family safe, you should know how to prevent cold-related health problems and what to do if a cold-weather health emergency arises.
Are You at Risk?
During extreme cold weather, everyone is at risk, but some groups are more vulnerable than others. They include :
- Infants under one year of age
- People 65 years of age or older
- Homeless People
- Outdoor workers
- Sport enthusiasts such as skiers, and ice skaters
- People living in homes that are poorly insulated or without heat
- People living in homes without power, usually due to other weather-related events such as a winter storm.
Health Risks of Extreme Cold: Know When to Get Help
Adverse health effects can occur as a direct result of exposure to excessive heat:
- Hypothermia – Symptoms and signs include: shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling and uncoordinated movements, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness.
- Frostbite – Symptoms and signs include white and grayish skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, or numbness.
Increases in other health problems can also be seen, especially for those with other chronic medical conditions such as heart conditions. Consult a healthcare provider of you experience any of the above symptoms.
Things You Can Do to Protect Yourself
Prepare for extreme cold events every winter – it’s always a possibility in Ontario. There are numerous steps you can take both before and during this type of event:
- Stay in heated buildings as much as possible such as your home, friend or family’s place, public buildings such as malls, and libraries
- Drink warm fluids but avoid caffeinated or alcoholised beverages, as they cause your body to lose heat more rapidly.
- Dress appropriately when going outside such as wearing multiple layers of loose fitting clothes, toques, and mittens. Cover up all exposed skin since, in extreme cold, frostbite can occur within minutes.
- Avoid strenuous exercise while out in the cold as much as possible.
- Know the weather forecast, and avoid travelling when extreme weather is predicted.
Information source: Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care