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Cold Temperature Exposure - Prevention

Many cold injuries can be prevented by protecting yourself when you are outdoors in cold weather.

General tips

  • Bring an emergency kit if you are going into the backcountry so you are prepared for cold, wet, or windy weather conditions that might arise.
  • Head for shelter that will protect you from wind and rain if you get wet or cold.
  • Avoid doing too much activity and sweating. Sweating increases heat loss through evaporation, so you will feel cold.
  • Avoid touching metal, especially with wet hands, because it will make you feel colder and may cause frostbite.

Nutrition tips

  • Eat plenty of food to help maintain your body heat. Carry high-calorie foods, such as candy bars and trail mix, when going out in cold weather.
  • Drink plenty of water. Carry extra water with you and drink it hourly. Your urine should be clear, not yellow or orange. If you are not urinating every 2 to 3 hours, you probably are not drinking enough fluids.
  • Do not drink alcoholic beverages. Alcohol:
    • Interferes with your body's ability to regulate body temperature.
    • Affects judgment. For example, a person may not put on more clothing when it is needed if his or her judgment is changed by alcohol.
    • Can cause blood vessels in your skin to dilate. This increases heat loss.
    • Reduces your ability to sense cold because it depresses the nervous system.
  • Do not use caffeine and do not smoke while in the cold. Nicotine (from tobacco) and caffeine cause narrowing of the blood vessels in the hands and feet. When blood vessels are narrowed, less blood flows to these areas, causing the hands and feet to feel cold.

Clothing tips

  • Wear proper clothing and shoes. Keep extra protective clothing and blankets in your car in case of a breakdown in an isolated area. Know the different ways in which the body loses heat so you can protect yourself from cold exposure.
  • Keep your hands and feet dry. Wear mittens instead of gloves. Wear socks that retain warmth and keep moisture away from your skin.
  • Protect your eyes from cold and wind by wearing glasses or goggles if you are planning outdoor activities.

Prevention measures for children

Children may not be aware of cold temperatures. Parents need to understand the ways in which the body loses heat and:

  • Limit the amount of time a child is out in cold, wet, or windy weather.
  • Dress children appropriately for the weather conditions. Remember C-O-L-D:
    • Cover your child's head, neck, and face as much as possible since a lot of heat loss can occur in these areas. These areas are also at risk for frostnip or frostbite. Apply lip protection.
    • Overexertion (being too active) can cause your child to sweat and chill more quickly. Sweating causes clothing to become damp and increases heat loss.
    • Layers of clothing will keep your child warm and protect your child best against wind and cold conditions.
    • Dry is key in preventing cold injury. Keeping your child dry with waterproof clothing reduces heat loss.
  • Keep close watch on your children's body heat even in the summer when they are swimming in a lake or pool for a long time.
  • Teach children to avoid touching cold metal with bare hands or licking extremely cold metal objects. Cold is transmitted more easily through metal and increases the risk of a cold injury, such as frostbite. Also, your child's tongue might stick to the cold metal and be difficult to remove.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 15, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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