Cold Injuries: Prevention by preparedness
It is that time of year once again to start pulling out jackets, coats, mittens, scarves and beanies. Just as hot weather injuries come with warmer weather, cold weather injuries come with cooler weather. Cold-weather injuries include injuries due to temperature, injuries due to heaters, carbon monoxide poisoning and accidents due to impaired physical or mental function from cold stress. Cold weather injuries can also occur in warmer ambient temperatures when an individual is wet due to rain or water omission.
There are many risk factors when it comes to cold-weather injuries such as wind speeds more than 5 mph, rain, snow, ice, humidity, cold temperatures, age, race, fitness, hydration, nutrition, rest, alcohol, drugs, and lack of adequate shelter or clothes.
The typical victim of a cold-weather injury casualty is a male approximately 20 years old at the rank of E-4 or below. They are usually from a warm climate and is not acclimated to cold weather and not prepared to survive in those conditions. Soldiers who use alcohol, tobacco, or medication could have impaired judgment and miss early warning signs of cold injuries.
There are several types of cold weather injuries including hypothermia, frostbite, chilblains, dehydration, sunburn, constipation and carbon monoxide poisoning. Sunburn is on this list of cold weather injuries since the sun is closer to earth and the sun’s rays are more intense. Many people feel less thirsty when it starts to get cooler outside resulting in dehydration. Chilblains are a result of exposure to nonfreezing temperatures and humid conditions. They usually last for several days, and the affected area usually heals after several weeks. Hypothermia is defined as having a core body temperature less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The most serious of the cold-weather injuries is frostbite.
Like all other injuries, cold-weather injuries can be prevented by eating properly and often, warming liquids and water, proper wear of the uniform and clothing, staying dry and active, getting plenty of rest, and Buddy checks, and becoming educated. Anyone from a private to a general can get a cold weather injury if the conditions are right.
For more information contact the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, Environmental Health Section at (706)787-1279.