How to Prevent Cold Weather Injuries

By Stephanie Watson @YourCareE
October 25, 2023
How to Prevent Cold Weather Injuries

When the temperature plunges, frostbite and hypothermia become real concerns. Here’s how to stay warm when you have to be outside during the winter.

Spending too much time outdoors on bitter and blustery days can lead to frostbite and hypothermia. If your driveway needs shoveling, you work outside, or you do winter activities like skiing or snowshoeing, make sure you’re properly attired.

When your skin is exposed to the elements for long enough, the fluid inside and outside of your cells freezes, and your blood vessels constrict. Without enough warm blood flowing through your tissues, ice crystals form, and you can develop frostbite. Extremities — including your fingers, toes, nose, and ears — are most susceptible to freezing. If you don’t get warm quickly enough, the damage can be irreversible. 


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A drop in body temperature below 95 degrees, called hypothermia, prevents your organs from working properly. Hypothermia can lead to irregular heartbeat, confusion, and loss of consciousness. Eventually, your organs can shut down.

Here are a few tips for protecting yourself on the coldest days this winter.

Know when to stay indoors

Check the weather before you venture outdoors. If it’s very cold, snowy, or windy, stay inside if you can. “It takes only minutes for exposed skin to become frostbitten if the temperature falls below 20 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind is blowing at 20 miles per hour or more,” said orthopedic surgeon, Taizoon Baxamusa, MD

Dress in layers

If you go outside, a winter coat isn’t enough to prevent frostbite and other cold weather dangers. You should keep an eye on the weather, dress appropriately for outdoor activities, and stay dry.

Wear loose layers; they’ll hold heat close to your body. You’ll also have the option of shedding layers once the day warms up or your body warms during outdoor activities. Start with long underwear made from a synthetic material. Top it with a wool or fleece sweater and pants. Cover that with a down parka and ski pants if you’ll be trudging through snow.

Every layer should be waterproof or water-repellant to keep you dry and warm. Check for gaps in your clothing through which cold air or snow might sneak in.

Protect your extremities

Focus on the areas where you lose heat quickly — your hands and feet. If you’re going to be outside for any length of time, wear two pairs of socks. The bottom sock should be made of a moisture-wicking fabric to pull wetness away from your toes. Add a pair of wool socks for insulation. Wear thick, waterproof boots that reach at least to your ankles. Protect your hands with insulated, waterproof gloves or mittens. 

Cover your top

Your ears and nose are two of your most vulnerable body parts. Keep your head covered with a wool or fleece hat. Protect your face with a scarf or facemask so that warm air stays around your nose and mouth.


You’re more likely to develop frostbite when you’re dehydrated. Drink a glass of water before and after shoveling, skiing, or doing any other outdoor activity. Stay away from alcohol. Although it will temporarily produce a warming sensation, alcohol increases your risk for frostbite. Caffeine and nicotine also leave your skin more vulnerable to cold injuries.

Know when to get out of the cold 

If you feel stinging, burning, or numbness in your skin, head indoors. Remove wet clothing, wrap yourself in a blanket, and slowly warm the affected area. Try to gradually bring feeling back into your body. Never rub frostbitten skin or submerge your hands or feet directly into hot water. Instead, use a warm washcloth.

If you do not feel sensation returning to your body, or if your skin begins to turn gray, go to an emergency room immediately. For hypothermia, you should also get medical attention right away.


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October 25, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN