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The cold: wrap up warmly

Cold weather causes excessive mortality of cardiovascular or pulmonary origin. The winter cold causes frostbite, which can be serious, and hypothermia. The most vulnerable should be protected. Special precautions should be taken when administering first aid.

During the winter, excessive mortality associated with cold weather is observed, especially from arterial thrombosis (blockage of the arteries in the heart and brain) and respiratory diseases.

Direct exposure to the freezing cold causes superficial chilblains, serious injuries such as frostbite and profound necrosis that could result in mutilation. Hypothermia is when the central human body temperature falls below 35°C. It is a matter of life and death; the signs need to be recognised and swift, efficient action taken. Those most vulnerable to the cold are infants, children, the elderly, people taking psychotropic drugs, people who have consumed large quantities of alcohol, and of course those who are poorly housed.

For protection from the cold, it is best to wrap up and wear layers, leaving the minimum of skin exposed, keeping one’s clothes dry and not too tight, not forgetting to cover the head, the neck and the face. Warming up should be slow and gentle, without rubbing. Very hot objects like hot-water bottles and heated blankets should be avoided.

©Prescrire January 2009

Source: "Le froid, savoir s'en protéger" Rev Prescrire 2008; 28 (302) 910-915.

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