Stay warm – and healthy – this winter

Extreme cold is a common part of New Brunswick winters and emergency departments across the province see victims of hypothermia and frostbite every year.

“The best way to ensure you don’t suffer from either condition is to avoid going outside in extreme temperatures whenever possible. If it is necessary to go out, wear warm clothing, preferably in layers,” said Dr. Gary Duguay, chief of emergency medicine, The Moncton Hospital, part of Horizon Health Network. “Don’t leave skin exposed to the cold and try to stay dry to avoid hypothermia.”

He recommends individuals check the weather forecast before going outside as it will allow you to properly prepare for cold temperatures, wind chills and wet snow or rain. “You should dress appropriately based on the weather conditions and the length of time you expect to be outside.

“The best way to avoid hypothermia or frostbite is to wear appropriate clothes such as a hat that covers the earlobes and mittens on your hands,” said Duguay.

Thermal underwear, fleece lined pants, long socks and warm waterproof, wind-resistant jackets provide excellent layers during cold temperatures. Multiple layers will allow you to take them off or add more depending on how you feel. To keep your feet warm and dry, consider wearing wool socks and insulated, water-resistant boots.

Superficial frostbite usually affects the hands, feet, nose, cheeks, and ears. Symptoms include pain or numbness of the skin; pale, hard, cold skin with a waxy appearance; a burning sensation; swelling and blisters. In more severe cases of deep frostbite, you may experience a complete loss of sensation to the affected area; blood-filled blisters over yellowish or white skin that looks waxy and is hard to touch; or skin that appears blackened or dead.

If frostbite is experienced, seek emergency medical care. It is important to go to a warm area and heat up the affected area of the body. The best method is to submerge a frost bitten hand or foot in warm (not hot) water, although warm air is useful too. Do not rub a frost bitten area as this can cause damage to blood vessels.

Immediate medical attention should also be sought for hypothermia. Symptoms of hypothermia include confusion, lethargy, slurred speech, difficulty breathing, unconsciousness or loss of pulse.

Horizon Health Network is the largest health care organization in Atlantic Canada, operating 12 hospitals and more than 100 medical facilities, clinics and offices providing medical services ranging from acute care to community based health services to New Brunswick, northern Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. With 1000 physicians, an annual budget exceeding $1 billion and 14,000 employees, Horizon Health Network’s strategic vision focuses on research, innovation and education.