“For all active component service members, the rate of cold weather injuries from 2018–2019 was the highest of the last five seasons … (most frequently occurring) among members of the Marine Corps and Army. Cold injuries associated with deployment … were more numerous than any of the previous four years; frostbite accounted for most such injuries.”
That statement, extracted from the Military Health System website (health.mil), will hopefully grab the attention of Team Lee members in uniform. It also appropriately introduces a health and safety topic that should be on everyone’s mind as decreasing fall temperatures slowly give way to the often bone-chilling cold of a Virginia winter.
Statistically, cold-weather injuries and deaths occur more often each year than maladies and fatalities caused by the hotter temperatures of summer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lack of awareness is a big contributing factor, the CDC further noted. People tend to overlook the fact that cold weather injuries can occur on even a 60-degree day, and many don’t do enough to protect themselves when temperatures actually dip below freezing. Some face increased risk because they take certain medications, are in poor physical condition or suffer from chronic ailments such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease
Simply defined, cold weather injuries occur when individuals are exposed to lower temperatures for an extended period of time and their body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. The most common injuries are hypothermia, frostbite, chilblain and immersion foot (also known as trench foot).
Hypothermia is caused by severe body heat loss due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Immersion in water can worsen the symptoms, creating a serious medical emergency as individuals stop shivering and display “umbles,” which consists of stumbles, mumbles, fumbles and grumbles. Immediate medical help is necessary in these situations.
Frostbite occurs when the body cannot maintain internal heat in certain areas. Usually, heat is lost in exposed areas where blood flow is decreased. The fingers, toes, ears and other isolated/uncovered body parts technically freeze and that can lead to gangrene and amputation if not properly treated.
It is recommended that victims of frostbite receive immediate medical attention. Until help arrives, move them to a warm area – do not make the victim walk if the feet are frostbitten. Use gradual warming techniques such as wrapping them in a blanket. Do not use hot water or place the injured area next to a heater or fire. Don’t rub the area of the wound.
Chilblain is a condition caused by exposure of bare skin to continued temperatures of 20 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The cheeks, ears and fingers become tender, have a hot feeling, and the skin becomes red and itchy. Utilizing proper head and hand gear and scarves for exposed areas can prevent chilblains.
Immersion foot is caused by continued exposure to wet, cold conditions. Symptoms include numbness with shooting pains, redness, swelling and bleeding. Keeping feet warm and dry is essential to preventing this injury.
In general, the best defense against all cold weather injuries is prevention. The acronym C-O-L-D is a good reminder of the necessary precautions.
C is for “Clean:” Wear socks and clothing that are clean because they are warmer.
O is for “Overheating:” This results in perspiration and the combination of being cold and wet increases one’s risk of cold weather-related injuries.
L is for “Loose Layers:” Dressing in this fashion allows air spaces to hold body heat and individuals can easily remove clothing when necessary to prevent perspiration when temperatures change. Loose layers further allow for comfort, better circulation and insulation.
D is for “Dry:” Wet clothing is cold clothing. Change socks, undershirts and outer garments as soon and as often as needed to keep dry. During prolonged outdoor activities – be it military training, gardening work or recreational pursuits – always pack at least one extra undershirt and pair of socks as a precaution.
Finally, individuals who have previously suffered a cold weather injury are more susceptible to it reoccurring, so they may require additional monitoring. Smoking and the use of alcohol, which both affect blood circulation, also increases the risk.
This year, take the initiative to decrease risk by implementing C-O-L-D measures and frequently checking on battle buddies, teammates, family and friends to ensure they’re not exhibiting signs of a cold weather injury.
To read more on this topic, visit www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/coldstress or phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/discond/cip/Pages/Cold-Weather-Casualties-and-Injuries.aspx.