I know a lot of people who absolutely LOVE the winter season… They love the falling snow, wearing puffy sweaters and sipping tea or hot chocolate in front of a fireplace or a picturesque window, revelling in the the wonderful tableau spread out before them… Screw that noise! Winter is horrible. It’s cold, it’s wet and there’s greater opportunity for those of us with compromised immune systems to get sick. Winter wonderland, indeed!
Despite my rather bitter-sounding opening paragraph, I can appreciate some of the things winter brings, such as snowball fights and snow forts, Christmas and the disappearance of wasps and mosquitoes. That last one is particularly near and dear to my heart. And no one who’s had to shovel for hours on end would usually claim to love the winter season. But putting aside the delicate balance between love and hate for a moment, there are a number of things one needs to be wary of, during the colder weather.
Having spent my entire life living in Canada, I’m no stranger to winter conditions, with snowy months starting in late October and often staying through April and into May. The cold weather also has a nasty effect on blood sugar levels, which just makes things all the more complicated. But some folks aren’t aware of the difference between some winter conditions, so let’s explore a couple.
1. Frostbite: Ah, frostbite… I’ve actually had this happen, albeit on a very mild scale. Frostbite occurs when the tissues in your body freeze. this can include the skin or underlying tissues. It can start with numbness and tingling and will progress to pain. It usually happens when exposed to cold temperatures (d-uh!) and you treat it by slowly warming the tissues back up.
2. Hypothermia: It’s weird how many people confuse the last term with this one. Unlike Frostbite, hypothermia happens due to prolonged exposure to cold weather, causing your body to lose its heat or core temperature. It usually starts out with shivering, which can make it tough to recognize as most people will naturally shiver when they’re cold, right? But as it progresses, one might begin to lose coordination, feel sleepy and confused and ultimately lose consciousness. Anything beyond that is death. Nice, eh? If it’s mild hypothermia, it can be treated by slowly bringing one’s core temp up with warm drinks and warm clothing.
3. Dehydration: That’s right, I said dehydration. Most people associate dehydration with heat, which is quite accurate. But a person can easily dehydrate in the cold as well, especially if they’re exerting themselves for long periods, like shovelling, skiing, playing with the kids or even walking. The problem with dehydration is that you’re less likely to recognize the symptoms of thirst in the cold. Your body simply won’t sense it as easily.
4. Sunburn: By now, some of you may be scrolling back up to the top to see if I’ve mistakenly posted a summer post instead of a winter one. No, I’m quite clear on the fact that these things can happen in the winter. Here’s the thing; the sun doesn’t care that there’s snow on the ground or that it’s cold. Just because you don’t feel the heat, doesn’t mean UV rays aren’t still blasting their way into your skin. And because you don’t feel the heat of the sun as intensely in the cold, your exposed skin will be prone to sunburn before you necessarily recognize that it’s happening.
I make the winter sound pretty bleak, but in truth it isn’t all THAT bad. Dress warmly and in layers, don’t remain in freezing conditions longer than you have to and remember to slap on some sunscreen to any exposed flesh. People don’t usually think of using sunblock in the winter but even spending long hours driving somewhere on a sunny, winter day will have you sporting an awkward tan showing the outline of your sunglasses. Not sexy in the least. But I digress…
And as a last piece of advice you didn’t ask for, keep close tabs on your blood sugars. Doing 1 hour of rigorous activity outside will lower blood sugars way faster than 1 hour of the same activity inside. It’s important to remember that your body isn’t just doing whatever you have it doing, it’s also working hard at trying to keep you warm. This means it’s burning more energy and your blood sugars will drop. And it can happen suddenly. If you’re shovelling or playing in the snow, take breaks and test your blood. This is also an easy way to allow you to warm up to prevent frostbite and hypothermia. ☯️