The dangers of cold weather

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Cold attacks the body, resulting in skin damages, and also lowers the body temperature, causing hypothermia that the body needs to combat in order to maintain its temperature close to 37°C

Skin damages

Cracks and chaps

It starts with a small irritation at fingertips, lips, nose or heel, due to cold. These small skin cracks become more and more deep and painful. Moisturising the skin and stopping cold exposure will allow healing

Frostbites

These lesions affect the extremities when they are insufficiently protected against the cold. They may be superficial and look like cracks, or they may be deeper and have severe consequences for the skin. Indeed, in the event of deep frostbite of a toe, it may be necessary to consider amputation.

The sensitive parts of the body are the nose, the ears, the fingers and the toes

These frostbites appear after prolonged exposure to the cold when thermal protection is insufficient. Remember to wear appropriate gloves, hat, scarf and socks

How to prevent cold damages?

Before you go out

  • Check whether you are taking any medicine that could slow down your body response
  • Make sure you are adequately dressed and buy clothing designed for protection against lower temperatures
  • When reviewing the weather forecast, be sure to distinguish between recorded temperature and perceived temperature.
  • Use the multi-layer principle with light, but specific materials
  • Take small instant warmers
  • Don't forget moisturising balms
  • Windcheaters may also be useful
  • If you are going for a long hike in the mountains, remember to also take small survival blankets

How to heal skin lesions?

Gradual warming and hot baths at 38/39°C

 Apply a gel dressing to the lesion

Seek medical attention if you have lost skin sensitivity and never puncture a blister (phlyctena) by yourself

Conclusion

Cold is a hidden enemy that may damage your skin and even be life-threatening in case of severe hypothermia

You need to protect all sensitive areas of the body using appropriate clothing and gear for lower altitude temperatures

Do not overlook lesions that do not heal, ask your doctor.

Docteur Patrick Bacquaert

Médecin chef de l'IRBMS

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