Beat the Cold

Beat the Cold

Follow the swallows to warmer regions. The thought isn’t too farfetched – many retirees are almost as predictable as swallows in their migratory behaviour. Every autumn, caravans and mobile homes clog the major roads leading to the sunnier locales, their passengers searching for warmth to soothe their aching bodies. By the time early summer arrives and the temperatures rise too high, these  migratory people return to the cooler regions.

Avoiding the cold is obviously the best prevention, but not always practical. Life has to go on and work has to be done – but safely. The less time you are exposed to the cold the less chance you have of being injured or getting ill. But try to explain this to the kids up bright and early after the first snowfall. They must build that snowman. They must throw snowballs at their friends. They must cover themselves from head to toes in snow. The snow may be slushy but that won’t deter them. ‘Hey kids, that’s enough. You are getting cold,’ the concerned parent shouts. ‘Oh no. We are warm. Honestly,’ comes the stuttered reply from shivering pair of blue lips.

Awareness is just as important as avoidance. Know the cold injury symptoms and first aid treatments. Be aware of the weather forecast and wind chill. Be prepared.

Cold Weather Clothes

Instead of wearing a super-thick ski jacket above your shirt, you should consider wearing multiple layers of loose-fitting clothing. This way, you can remove or add layers if you feel too hot or cold.

The trapped air between each layer and in the padding of a garment acts as perfect insulation. Dirt or sweat, however, clogs the space between the padding fibres and leaves less room for the insulating air. On the other hand, a loosely knitted jumper allows the wind to penetrate deep into the clothing and carry away the warm layer of air. The outer layer should preferably be waterproof and windproof. But this is a trade-off between the need for protection against the environment and the need for ventilation. A waterproof outer layer acts like a sauna suit because your sweat can’t evaporate, and accumulates in the clothing. Any initial feeling of warmth soon gives way to cold. Such a garment works best while outdoors when you stand or sit and you don’t sweat much, but is useless when you work or exercise hard. Tightly knit fabrics or modern microfibres that repel or resist rainwater but allow ‘breathing’ are a compromise.

You lose a large amount of heat if your head is exposed to the cold. More than half of total heat loss can occur from the head. Unless you are too hot and need to radiate heat, wear a hat, cap or hood,  preferably with ear protection. A scarf, facemask or balaclava protects the skin on your face. Just take it off, though, when you enter a bank!

Mittens provide a larger volume of insulating air for your fingers. Gloves, however, win the contest when you have to perform an awkward task, such as opening a zipper in a hurry.

Clean, dry and thick socks warm your feet; a rubber sole on your shoes protect from moisture; and a permeable material for the upper part of the shoe provides ventilation.

The ideal winter clothing:

  • absorbs sweat
  • deflects the wind
  • is lightweight
  • is waterproof
  • is warm
  • is durable
  • insulates
  • ventilates
  • is easy to wear
  • and remove

Protect your body from the winter cold

Healthy people often ignore the first signs and symptoms of a cold-related injury or illness: ‘A little cold won’t kill me,’ they say. They are correct, but the emphasis is on ‘little’. On the other hand, children and the elderly may not be aware of the early warning signs. You, as an informed person, should watch for signs and symptoms, such as persistent shivering, from yourself and others.

Having cold hands and feet is bad enough, but add moisture and the feeling of cold can turn to injury. The heat loss increases dramatically if a part of your body is moist or wet and exposed to the air, in particular moving air. Your fingers can become so stiff that simple manual tasks are impossible. Keep feet, hands and exposed skin dry.

Prevent conductive heat loss as much as possible. If you have to sit on cold ground, place some insulating material between your backside and the ground, so you don’t lose heat to it, and don’t touch anything metal either, as it can reach even lower temperatures and can freeze your skin instantly. Avoid substances that constrict blood vessels, such as nicotine and certain medication. Talk to your doctor if you are cold sensitive.

Be active without overexerting yourself. The combination of cold weather and intense physical activity could be too much for patients with heart or circulatory problems. Just breathing cold air may be sufficient to lower the body temperature below the danger level. Wear a scarf or similar in front of your mouth to pre-warm the cold air. This is particular important for asthma sufferers, as cold dry air is one of the recognized asthma triggers. If all else fails, move indoors for your exercises.

Prepare your home for the winter cold

Glass_wool_insulationPrepare your house for the winter by installing or improving insulation. Don’t forget to cover exposed water pipes if you expect temperatures below freezing. Keep steps and walkways free of ice to prevent slipping. Have your heating checked before the cold season starts, as partly blocked exhausts can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Is the heater adequate for the size of your home? Many governments of countries in cold climates provide financial support for their low-income citizens to either insulate their homes or to supplement energy costs.

Remember that even relatively mild temperatures can cause hypothermia if a person is exposed to the elements for some time. An easy-to-read thermometer for the bedroom of your elderly relative could be a life-saving birthday present. Institutions such as old people’s homes or homes for the mentally disadvantaged have to be especially prepared, as their patients’ responses to the cold may be ineffective.

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