Winter can be a time of joy and wonder, but it can also be a challenging season for the outdoorsy person. Winter injuries are a common occurrence for those spending time in the great outdoors, and it doesn’t need to be all that cold for some of the winter injuries we will cover today to impact your health.
Old man winter
Winter injuries occur as a result of one or more of the following factors: your body fails to regulate its core temperature and loses heat, failing to cover exposed skin; failing to keep your body and clothing dry, and failing to stay hydrated.
Failure to stay hydrated can result in cracked and chapped lips, inability to sweat (essential for managing your body temperature), and failure of a variety of bodily functions.
Failure to protect exposed skin can result in chapped lips, frostbite, sunburn, and heat loss.
Allowing your body and clothing to become wet can result in frostbite and loss of body heat. Also, you will be unable to control your body temperature if you do not wear the appropriate clothing.
And all these factors may contribute to the deadliest, most treacherous cold weather injury: hypothermia.
Most common winter injuries and how you should handle them
Snow blindness can simply be described as a temporary loss of sight caused by extended exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
This amount of UV damage to the eyes is a greater hazard in the winter due to the added impact of rays reflecting off snow and ice directly into your eyes. Exposure occurs when you spend extended periods of time on snow- and ice-covered terrain without wearing sunglasses that block off UV radiation.
Goggles that only let in light through a narrow slit are also effective. In fact, the Eskimo used to manufacture glasses from bones by carving a small slit into flat bones. These improvised glasses were more than enough to protect their eyes from the UV rays.
Because the harm is caused by UV radiation, you can be affected even if the sky is cloudy. In snowy and icy situations, always be sure to wear UV-protective eyewear when the sun is out.
Symptoms of snow blindness include a scratchy or burning sensation in the eyes, comparable to getting sand or grit in your eyes. Depending on the amount of exposure, the discomfort can be minimal or severe.
Your vision may deteriorate, your eyes may weep more frequently, opening your eyelids may be difficult, and you may get a headache.
The only remedy that works is to keep your eyes closed or stay in a dark area. Move the person to a dimly lit area. Cover their eyes with a dark cloth and tell them that it is only temporary and that their sight will return in time.
A moist cloth may provide a comforting sensation. Get them to a doctor as soon as possible for an evaluation and additional treatment. Recovery could take two to three days, depending on the intensity.
Dehydration is a typical disorder linked with hot temperatures, but it can equally affect you in cold weather. It is caused by a loss of body fluids to the point that regular biological functions slow down or stop completely.
Dehydration happens when you lose an excessive amount of body fluids through sweating and other ways and do not replenish the fluids through drinking and eating.
Although you can see moisture leave your body with each exhaled breath, most individuals are unaware of how much they sweat in cold weather since they don’t feel hot. As a result, individuals do not feel the need to consume additional fluids.
Dry mouth and tongue, darker urine, headache, stomach cramps, mental sluggishness, and, in later stages, unconsciousness are all symptoms associated with dehydration.
Drinking extra liquids, such as water or soup, and resting are recommended as treatments when patients are dehydrated.
Warm beverages are preferable, particularly in cold weather.
Do not try to consume snow since it contains little liquid, and it will also lower your body’s core temperature. Additionally, avoid anything containing caffeine (coffee, tea, soft or energy drinks) and alcohol, as they both contribute to dehydration.
Stay hydrated by drinking water on a regular basis, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Don’t put it off till you’re thirsty because you’re already dehydrated by that point. And lastly, examine your pee to discover whether you are becoming dehydrated.
Sunburn, just like dehydration, is typically linked with the summer months, but it is still a severe risk in the winter. Sunburn, in simple words, is skin damage caused by UV rays, similar to snow blindness.
Sunburn occurs when your unprotected skin is exposed to UV rays for a lengthy period of time, causing reddening and, in more severe cases, peeling or blistering.
Because there is less air to filter off the rays at higher altitudes, sunburns can be more severe in a cold environment or in the mountains. Even if the sky is cloudy, protect your skin because clouds cannot prevent or filter UV rays.
The best approach to avoiding sunburns is to protect your skin from UV rays. This is best accomplished by wearing appropriate attire and using sunscreen. Wear long-sleeved shirts and slacks (which should be easy to find in the winter).
Exposed skin should be protected with a sunscreen lotion with a high SPF rating that should be reapplied as advised on the label to maintain effectiveness.
If you do get sunburn during the colder months, the first thing you should do is prevent further sun exposure.
To help hydrate the skin, apply aloe or something similar twice a day on the affected skin. If pain medication is required, take it. Using cool clothes to eliminate heat and relieve pain can also help.
If blisters form, avoid breaking them since they will resolve on their own. If you break the blisters, you will basically have small open wounds, and this can get infected.
Frostbite will occur when your skin is exposed to freezing temperatures, whether uncovered or protected.
With extended exposure, these low temperatures begin to freeze the skin and underlying tissue, first on the outside but advancing deeper into the body the longer the exposure to cold.
It typically affects exposed parts or extremities such as the feet, toes, hands, fingers, face, ears, nose, cheeks, and wrists, but it can affect any part of your body.
If you make snowballs with your bare hands, ski all day without a covering for your head or face, plunge into freezing water by accident, or field-dress a deer in freezing circumstances without drying your hands off as you go, are all ways to suffer winter injuries such as frostbites.
In the early stages, skin exposed to the elements turns reddish in light-skinned people and grayish in dark-skinned people. Skin whitening, or “blanching,” may occur, and you will experience tingling followed by numbness.
Because the tissue has been frozen, there will be no feeling in the affected area in more severe cases. Due to the freezing of the tissue, the skin may feel hard to the touch.
To treat frostbite, relocate the person to a safe location, remove any constricting clothes or jewelry to allow blood flow, and gradually warm the person and affected area.
Use your own body heat to warm the damaged area, apply warm compresses to the area, immerse the affected area in warm water, raise the temperature of the room or space surrounding them, and provide them with warm, non-alcoholic liquids to drink to assist warm the blood as it circulates through the body.
Rubbing the injured area will cause more tissue injury, so avoid doing it at all costs. In moderate situations, the skin tone will return to normal as the affected area gets warmer.
In cases of severe frostbite, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Keep in mind that warming a frozen area should not be started unless it can be done consistently. Thawing and then refreezing the skin tissue will cause additional damage.
As the frostbite heals, the person may experience a tingling sensation as the feeling returns to the affected area. This may evolve into throbbing pain, which is typical and not a cause for concern, though it is unpleasant.
Hypothermia occurs when your core body temperature falls below 95 degrees (F). In other words, you’ve been losing body heat unknowingly, and your body is getting cold to the point where it can’t operate correctly. Hypothermia often impairs your capacity to think rationally and can be fatal.
Also, it’s important to note that hypothermia is more common among infants and the elderly.
Losing body heat can occur in a multitude of ways in the outdoors, and here are just a few examples:
- Falling out of a boat into cold water (at any time of year) and being unable to get out for an extended period of time;
- Wearing clothing that keeps sweat next to or near your skin so that as it cools, it draws heat from your skin and, as a result, from your core;
- Having skin exposed in windy and damp conditions so that you lose body heat from the wind blowing across your skin.
Shivering (which is followed by a reduction of shivering as the condition worsens), clumsiness, slurred speech, weariness, memory loss, confusion, pale or blue skin, and rapid breathing are all symptoms of hypothermia.
Because hypothermia develops gradually, you may be unaware that it is happening to you.
If you travel in a group, it is critical that everyone is aware of the signs and keeps an eye on each other because they will be the first to notice if you are in danger, not you.
It’s also important to mention that hypothermia occurs gradually as your body loses heat in ways you may be unaware of. The body loses heat in several ways, and the four main mechanisms of heat loss are:
Perspiration is the body’s method of lowering its interior temperature. Sweat glands extract water from the blood in order to make sweat.
At the same time, it transports blood heat to the skin’s surface, where it evaporates, decreasing body heat in two ways. The first approach involves lowering the quantity of heat in the blood, while the second involves cooling the skin through evaporation.
Because nature strives for equilibrium, if the body’s temperature is higher than the surrounding air, the body will radiate its heat into the air.
The larger the difference in temperature between the body and the air, the more heat is lost to the air.
Heat flows from a hotter place to a colder area, passing through whatever serves as a conductor. Because air is not particularly dense, it is the worst conductor. Because they are dense and uniform, solids such as rock or earth are the finest conductors.
Water and moisture are mild conductors; however, they are the most common when you are outside. Keeping your body and clothing dry will aid in preventing heat loss from your body.
As previously mentioned, your body warms the air around it by conduction. However, if that warm air is pushed away from your body by a breeze or other activity, your body will continue to heat it until whatever is carrying it away from your body stops.
Convection is the loss of heat caused by moving warm air away from your body. Wind blowing across your body is a common heat loss factor. The cooling of your body by wind is referred to as wind chill.
If you or someone in your group develops hypothermia, get emergency medical attention before the core temperature falls anymore.
Get the person to a warm, dry location away from the elements. Remove any wet or damp clothing, dry off the skin, and, if feasible, put on dry clothing.
Warm the torso first, either with an electric blanket (if one is available) or with your own or another person’s body heat. Wrap a blanket loosely across the victim to keep him/her warm.
In the outdoors, the ideal method to warm a patient is to place the victim and another person in a sleeping bag to maximize skin-to-skin contact and retain the heat close to the hypothermic individual.
If they are conscious, you can instantly boost their internal body temperature by giving them warm beverages such as water or soup.
In severe circumstances, seek medical assistance for the victim as soon as possible since hypothermia in its advanced stages is often fatal.
Winter injuries are common during the cold months. Luckily, they are also simple to avoid and treat, especially if you know what to look for and if you use common sense.
Dress in layers as needed for the temperature, protect exposed skin, stay hydrated, and use sunglasses and lip balm.
This article has been written by James H. Redford MD for Prepper’s Will.
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