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Program Getting Newcomers Ready for Winter

Canada’s winters can be unpredictable. Here in Manitoba, one day, we can have lovely warm sun. The next, it can be blistering cold. Even those who have lived here their whole lives can get caught off-guard. One joke often used is that everyone forgets how to drive on the year’s first snowfall. 

To help inform newcomers of the challenges of winter and settling in a new province, the Canadian Red Cross has the SmartStart Injury Prevention program. Bavleen Kaur is an international student in her final year at the University of Manitoba. Although she is comfortable with them now, winters were overwhelming at first. Luckily she was able to learn a lot through the SSIP program. One of Bavleen’s key takeaways is denim in winter is not your friend. 

“The most important thing is denim, jeans they do not help in winter. You can not rely on jeans. You need to wear something underneath or overtop your jeans when you’re outside in December and January. Another thing is buying earmuffs. Even when I was wearing a toque or a cap, my ears are very sensitive, so I would still get some redness and swelling. I bought earmuffs quite late, and I wish I had them all year.”

Bevleen took part in the program starting in October, right before her first winter in the country. The program takes a comprehensive look at winter safety, winter driving tips, and ice safety. Designed for newcomers, the SmartStart programs have helpful information that all populations can utilize. Bevellen learned that cold weather puts extra strain on your heart.

“Seniors and people with certain chronic health conditions should not shovel snow in winter, as it increases their risk of heart issues. Its important to work slower, and important to leave time for errands slowly and safely.” 

Dehydration is another health concern individuals need to be aware of during colder weather. According to a study from the University of New Hampshire, your chance of dehydration increases during the colder months. The study explains that you don’t feel as thirsty in colder temperatures, which means you may forget to drink adequate water. Although tastier and warmer, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate contain caffeine that dehydrates your body. Dehydration can lead to confusion, sluggishness, seizures, difficulty breathing, chest or stomach pain, and fainting, and you should visit an emergency room if you or a loved one exhibit any of these symptoms.

Frostbite and hypothermia are even more concerns during frigid weather. 

Canada.ca defines hypothermia as a drop of body temperature below average (37° C ) from prolonged frigid waters exposure. The signs and symptoms of the three different stages of hypothermia are:

  • First stage: shivering, reduced circulation;
  • Second stage: slow, weak pulse, slowed breathing, lack of coordination, irritability, confusion and sleepy behaviour;
  • Advanced stage: slow, weak or absent respiration and pulse. The person may lose consciousness.

When the temperature drops below 0ºC (32ºF), blood vessels close to the skin constrict to protect the core body temperature. When your body is exposed to the cold for an extended period, blood flow to your hands, feet, nose, and ears can be severely restricted. The combination of poor circulation and extreme cold can lead to frostbite.

Frostbite generally occurs in body parts furthest from the heart:

  • hands
  • feet
  • nose
  • ears

Mild frostbite (frostnip) makes your skin look yellowish or white, but it is still soft to the touch. Your skin might turn red during the warming process, but normal colour returns once the area is warmed.

Severe frostbite can cause permanent damage to body tissue if it is not treated immediately. Nerve damage occurs, and frostbitten skin becomes discoloured and turns black. After some time, nerve damage becomes so severe that you will lose feeling in the affected area, and blisters will occur. If the skin is broken and becomes infected, gangrene can set in, resulting in loss of limbs.

All the potential health risks and concerns can be hazardous, so it’s essential to stay hydrated, weather clothing appropriate for the temperatures, stay off frozen bodies of water that haven’t been approved for recreational purposes, and have a means of communication and letting people know when you’re travelling out in the cold weather. 

One of the final components you learn from the program is reading the temperature. 

“A word we hear in weather forecasts is the windchill,” says Bavleen. “It may say it’s -20 degrees Celcius outside, but because of the wind, it feels colder to the average person, and there is a greater risk of frostbite and hypothermia. Whenever you check the temperature outside, it’s important to check the wind chill factor as well.”

 The program covers all these areas and more to ensure you can remain safe and healthy throughout Canada’s winter months. 

Find your local SmartStart Injury Prevention Program.

– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U Multicultural.

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