As we are deep into the cold winter months, you’ll see slips, falls, and more serious accidents happening around you, and knowing basic first aid will come in handy. Did you know that as many as 30% of car accidents in Canada happen on snowy, icy, or wet roads with most occurring between November and January. In Canada, we typically experience 4 months of snow, ice, and cold, which can impact our mental and physical health beyond driving conditions; Cold weather can impact the functions of the heart because your heart works harder to keep your body warm, especially if you have a heart condition.
Ensure that you are prepared for the cold weather, and any emergency situation that occurs because of it, by having a basic understanding of first aid in the cold weather. It is important to prevent and prepare for the unknown.
Prevention: Before you go Outside
- Dress in layers and pack extras.
- Inner layers: Wear warm socks, fleece, and a long or short sleeved shirt.
- Outer layers: Cover exposed areas with a toque, scarf, gloves, boots, and a good winter jacket. These can protect against frostbite and hypothermia.
- Note: Pack extra dry layers in case your clothes get wet. You do not want to stay in cold, wet clothes. And hot packs can help to warm up extremities. (See our First Aid Survival for Winter Adventures blog for more information)
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- It may seem counterintuitive to drink cold water when outside, but you need to drink plenty of fluids during winter activities to stay hydrated. Avoid caffeine or alcohol as they lead to dehydration. Warm drinks (such as tea or hot lemon water) will help to keep your body warmer.
- Know the weather.
- Check more than just the temperature before you leave the house. Wind chill can make the temperature feel colder against the skin. Unprotected skin is more at risk of frostbite during wind chill because it blows the warm air away from the skin.
- Ensure that your car is ready for winter driving conditions. Here are some ways to prepare your vehicle.
Cold Weather Health Issues
Cold-weather emergencies happen when someone’s body temperature decreases, and they are exposed to cold temperatures for too long. This can happen to anyone and it can be life threatening. Watch for these indicators while out in the cold:
- Tingling, pain, or swollen fingers. When your skin is exposed to the cold air, it can lead to frostbite.
- Frostbite: when skin freezes. Skin becomes cold and red, then numb, hard, and pale. This can happen to any exposed skin, and your toes, ears, fingers, and nose are most at risk.
- Feeling cold, shivering, teeth chattering, slight numbness in the fingers and toes, slurred speech, confusion, loss of energy, clumsiness, and frostbite. Being too cold can lead to hypothermia and it can be easily avoided by wearing the proper clothing and staying warm.
- Hypothermia: develops slowly and is caused by exposure to cold weather and divided into three levels, mild, moderate, and severe. Severe hypothermia affects the cardiovascular system by slowing down the heart rate, this is called bradycardia.
Cold Weather First Aid: How to Help
If someone you know is experiencing health issues in the cold weather, it is important to help as soon as possible. Here are some ways to help someone in cold-related emergencies:
- Head indoors to warm up. Get out of the cold.
- Remove any wet or restrictive clothing. Dry the individual gently and change them into dry clothes.
- Do not scratch or rub skin if frostbite is suspected.
- Slowly warm up the individual using indirect heat or lukewarm water. Treat them gently and monitor their breathing. Cover them with blankets.
- Sip a warm drink.
- Call 911 if hypothermia is suspected.
Winter Car Emergency Kit: What to Keep in Your Car
Cold weather creates slippery and snowy winter road conditions that can make driving difficult and more dangerous. It is important to exercise caution and be prepared for unexpected circumstances when driving on winter roads if you get stuck in a snowbank or ditch. Always dress warm, bring layers, and prepare an emergency kit for your car.
An emergency winter car kit should include:
- Nonperishable foods such as granola bars.
- Water and bottles that will not break if frozen.
- Extra clothing, boots, shoes, gloves, toques, and blankets.
- A first aid kit with a seat belt knife. This First Aid Kit is perfect for your vehicle.
- A small shovel and snowbrush.
- A candle and matches (plus a metal can with holes in it).
- A wind-up flashlight.
- A whistle in case you need to call for attention.
- Roadmaps of the area you are heading to (in case you lose cell service).
There are also a few things you should keep in your car regardless of weather:
- Sand, salt, or non-clumping cat litter.
- Antifreeze and winter windshield washer fluid.
- A tow rope.
- Jumper cables.
- Fire extinguisher.
- Warning light or road flares.
- Recommended AED: HeartStart FRX AED
- It is recommended that you keep an AED in your vehicle, especially in the winter and on long road trips. Delays from the weather and road closures or limited access to emergency services can leave you at risk. Having the proper medical and safety equipment with you is important because cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, at any time.
- The HeartStart FRX AED is recommended because it is durable, compact, and each ready pack contains all the accessories you will need to properly assist in an emergency.
Keep yourself and your loved ones safe during the winter months and focus on having fun in the snow! Prevention and preparation are key to staying safe in the snowy Canadian winter months, so create an emergency car kit and watch for cold-weather emergency indicators.