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It's Your Health
Canada has one of the most severe winter climates of any country in the world. Canadians across the country may face severe cold weather conditions that can affect their health. However, being active and enjoying winter activities and sports is a great way to stay healthy. Learn how to adjust to cold conditions so you can enjoy the winter weather.
Extreme cold is measured differently in different parts of the country. Whenever temperatures drop dramatically below normal, staying warm and safe can become challenging. In general, your risk of health effects like windburn and frostbite increase at wind chill values below -27.
The wind can make cold temperatures feel even colder. The wind chill index measures what the temperature feels like on exposed skin based on the speed of the wind. A wind chill can cause your body to lose heat faster and your skin to freeze very quickly. Wind chills below -70 have been recorded in some northern Canadian communities.
While anyone who isn't dressed warmly is at risk in cold weather conditions, some are at greater risk than others for frost bite and hypothermia:
A normal body temperature is approximately 37ºC (99ºF). When your core body temperature drops by 1 or 2ºC (1.8 or 3.6ºF), or your body is exposed to severe cold it increases your risk of harmful effects.
Windburn occurs when cold wind removes the top layer of oil from the skin causing:
Although windburn is different than sunburn, people often confuse the two because the symptoms are similar.
When the temperature drops below 0ºC (32ºF), blood vessels close to the skin constrict to protect the core body temperature. When your body is exposed to the cold for a long period of time, blood flow to your hands, feet, nose, and ears can be severely restricted. The combination of poor circulation and extreme cold can lead to frostbite.
Frostbite generally occurs in body parts furthest from the heart:
Mild frostbite (frostnip) makes your skin look yellowish or white but it is still soft to the touch. Your skin might turn red during the warming process, but normal colour returns once the area is warmed.
Severe frostbite can cause permanent damage to body tissue if it is not treated immediately. Nerve damage occurs and frostbitten skin becomes discoloured and turns black. After some time, nerve damage becomes so severe that you will lose feeling in the affected area and blisters will occur. If the skin is broken and becomes infected, gangrene can set in which can result in loss of limbs.
There are three stages of hypothermia:
Do not scratch or rub the affected area--it can damage the skin.
Mild frostbite (frostnip) can be treated in two ways:
Severe frostbite requires immediate medical attention. While you are waiting for help to arrive begin treating it with passive and active warming.
Severe cases of hypothermia (such as stages 2 and 3) require immediate medical attention. Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number.
The following treatment options should be followed for stage 1 hypothermia, or while waiting for help to arrive for more severe hypothermia:
Protect yourself from extreme cold conditions by following these tips:
Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada are committed to maintaining and improving the health of Canadians. They are working with their partners to better understand the impacts of extreme cold on the health of Canadians, particularly those at greatest risk, and to promote efforts to reduce these risks.
Environment Canada's Meteorological Service gives Canadians as much advance notice as possible about potentially hazardous weather and provides tips on how to report and prepare for it. By issuing warnings, watches, and special statements, the Public Alerting Program helps people take steps to protect themselves and their property from harm. In addition to public alerts, Environment Canada issues special mariner alerts to warn mariners when hazardous marine weather, ice conditions or icebergs could threaten their safety.
For more information on winter weather and what you can do to protect yourself from extreme cold, visit the following websites:
You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-465-7735*
Original: January 2013
ęHer Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2013
Catalogue # H13-7/129-2013E-PDF
ISBN # 978-1-100-21728-4