There’s no such thing as being too cautious when participating in cold-season activities. Nature is unforgiving, especially during the winter months. Emergencies will happen, and adventurers should be familiar with a few basic travel supplies. First aid kits should be packed accordingly, and safety measures must be taken when camping, hunting or spending any amount of extended time in cold, snowy weather.
Precautions also go for those that drive in winter conditions. Having winter ready tires, accessible emergency equipment, and knowing the essentials of safe winter driving can save lives. Here are some negative encounters one might have adventuring during the cold season and how to safely remedy the situation.
Frostbite is most likely to occur on body parts that receive less blood flow, such as extremities further away from the body core. When exposed to prolonged cold weather, blood vessels contract and freeze body tissue, which in turn stops the flow of blood and oxygen to the affected body parts. Medical attention must be sought out immediately to avoid long term consequences.
The first step in treating frostbite is being able to spot it. Those that experience frostbite may not feel it at first due to a numbness that occurs in the affected area. If the hands were exposed, the first sign is a sore redness that occurs on the fingertips. People have described it as “itchy” with the pain being similar to “pins and needles”. The skin will then become hard and start to blister and eventually turn black after prolonged exposure to frigid temperatures.
Preventing frostbite is as simple as wearing the right layers. The first layer is something that will keep you dry, the second acts as an insulator like wool, the third and topmost layer is both wind and waterproof. At the hospital, frostbite is treated with warm sponges, an MRI to detect the layers of skin affected, and possibly nerve pain and blood thinning medication.
The average body temperature is 98.6 degrees. Hypothermia starts to occur when body temperature drops below 95. Severe hypothermia takes place when core temperature drops below 82 degrees. The body maintains a balance of heat production and heat loss. When the body can’t produce enough heat to keep up with prolonged exposure to cold temperature, hypothermia occurs.
Those that make the ascent up Mount Everest are very vulnerable to hypothermia. Specific gear is required to combat the harsh wind and ice storms that occur. But hypothermia can happen in more mild environments as well. How susceptible someone is to hypothermia widely depends on age, body weight, overall health, and length of time exposed to frigid temperatures. For example, elderly people and infants would be at risk of hypothermia if a power outage were to occur in their house overnight during the colder months.
The body will shiver as a sign that it’s producing enough heat and maintaining stable body temperature. In the early stages of hypothermia, however, the body won’t shiver, and that’s when there should be concern. Other symptoms include a shortness of breath, drowsiness, confusion, and slurred speech. To treat hypothermia, remove all wet articles of clothing, move to warm dry shelter immediately, find extra clothing, blankets, and other sources of heat (like electric blankets or someone else’s body heat), drink warm liquids but avoid coffee and alcohol. If possible, go directly to the nearest emergency center.
Now that summer is over and the winter months have settled in, it may not seem necessary to bring along the sunscreen anymore. Sunburns, however, occur just as often in winter as they do in summer. According to the CDC, over one third of adults and 70 percent of children admit to getting a sunburn within the past year.
The CDC explains further by writing, “Reflection from the snow, sand, and water increases exposure, a particularly important consideration for snow skiing, beach activities, swimming, and sailing.” Sunburn is a sign that the skin has been exposed to the sun for too long, but sun damage isn’t always visible.
Sun damage comes after the initial sunburn when ultraviolet light gets under the skin and alters DNA. This can cause skin to age prematurely and contribute to the development of skin cancer. Catching a sunburn early is the best way to avoid further complications. Sunburns will cause the skin to redden and blister. Other symptoms can include dizziness, nausea and other fever-like symptoms.
Remedies to soothe the burn include putting cold pads on the burned area. If it’s a large burn, taking a cold bath is helpful as well. Sunburn relief in the form of gels or creams like menthol, aloe, and camphor can take the stinging sensation from the burn. Those with a bad sunburn should stay hydrated, put on reflective colored clothing, stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible, and apply sunscreen often.
First Aid Checklist
Having a well equipped first aid kit is essential for all outdoor winter activities. If something unexpected were to happen that turns into an emergency, it’s wise to keep an emergency first aid kit close at hand. According to The Red Cross, here are the recommended essentials for a quality first aid kit:
2 absorbent compress dressings (5 x 9 inches)
25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
5 antibiotic ointment packets (approximately 1 gram)
5 antiseptic wipe packets
2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)
1 blanket (space blanket)
1 breathing barrier (with one-way valve)
1 instant cold compress
2 pair of nonlatex gloves (size: large)
2 hydrocortisone ointment packets (approximately 1 gram each)
1 roller bandage (3 inches wide)
1 roller bandage (4 inches wide)
5 sterile gauze pads (3 x 3 inches)
5 sterile gauze pads (4 x 4 inches)
Oral thermometer (non-mercury/nonglass)
2 triangular bandages
First aid instruction booklet
While adventurers must be cautious during all seasons, winter comes with some extra potentially dangerous situations that need extra care to prevent. The American Academy of CPR and First Aid says, “One moment you will be enjoying the blooming beauty of the mountains, and the next moment you can be facing a life-and-death situation.” Winter activities are much more enjoyable knowing the safety precautions are dutifully covered.