What is Windburn?

Windburn occurs when cold wind removes the top layer of oil from the skin causing the following symptoms: excessive dryness, redness, soreness and itchiness.

If you suspect windburn, apply a protective therapeutic skin moisturizer to the affected area(s) as needed. Use a protective lip balm to treat lips. Do not scratch or rub the affected area as it can damage the skin.

What is Frostbite?

In cold weather, blood vessels near the skin constrict to protect the core body temperature. When your body is exposed to the cold for a long period of time, blood flow to your hands, feet, nose, and ears can be severely restricted. The combination of poor circulation and extreme cold to these body parts can lead to frostbite (mild or severe).

Mild frostbite symptoms may include yellowish or white skin that is still soft to the touch. Skin may turn red during the warming process, but normal colour returns once the area is warmed. 

If you suspect mild frostbite, it can be treated in two ways passive warming and active warming:

  • Passive warming can be done by moving to a warmer room, wrapping yourself in blankets or reheating your body by skin-to-skin contact with another person.
  • Active warming can be done along with passive warming. Add heat directly to the frostbitten area; thawing the skin as quickly as possible without burning yourself. Place injured skin in water that is just above body temperature. Do not rub, massage or shake the injured skin because it can cause more damage.

Severe frostbite can cause permanent nerve damage to body tissue if not treated immediately. Symptoms may include discolouration and blackening of skin and loss of feeling and blisters in the affected area. If the skin is broken and becomes infected, gangrene can set in which can result in loss of limbs. 

If you suspect severe frostbite, immediate medical attention is required. While waiting for medical attention, treat the area with passive and active warming.

 What is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia occurs when there is a sustained decrease in normal body temperature (37°C). There are three stages of hypothermia:

Stage 1 – Occurs in a body temperature loss of 1 to 2°C.  Symptoms may include shivering, goose bumps, numbness of extremities, quick and shallow breathing, and a feeling of being tired and/or sick to your stomach.

  • If you suspect Stage 1 hypothermia (or more severe hypothermia):
  • Find shelter
  • Keep your muscles moving
  • Dry and gradually warm your body using passive warming techniques
  • Drink warm liquids
  • Don't fight shivering, this is a way your body increases its core temperature

Stage 2 – Occurs in a body temperature loss of 2 to 4°C. Symptoms may include strong shivering, uncoordinated muscles, slow and laboured movements, mild confusion, paleness, and the turning blue of lips, ears, fingers or toes. If one cannot touch their thumb to their little finger, one may be experiencing Stage 2 hypothermia.

If you suspect Stage 2 hypothermia, seek immediate medical attention.

Stage 3 – Occurs when body temperature drops 5°C or more. Symptoms may include stopping of shivering, trouble speaking, thinking, and walking, amnesia, exposed skin becomes blue and puffy, difficulty moving muscles, and irrational behaviour. The heart may be beating quickly but pulse and breathing will decrease. At this stage one is at risk of dying.

If you suspect Stage 3 hypothermia, seek immediate medical attention.

Who is at Risk?

While anyone who isn't dressed warmly is at risk in cold weather conditions, some are at greater risk than others for windburn, frostbite and hypothermia:

  • homeless people
  • outdoor workers
  • people living in homes that are poorly insulated (with no heat or no power)
  • people with certain medical conditions affecting the blood vessels
  • people taking certain medications including beta-blockers
  • winter sport enthusiasts
  • infants (under 1 year)
  • seniors (65 years or older)


Protect yourself from extreme cold conditions by following these tips:

  • Wear appropriate clothing. Synthetic and wool fabrics provide better insulation.
  • Dress in layers. Wear warm socks, gloves, a hat and scarf covering your nose.
  • If you get wet, change into dry clothing as soon as possible. You lose heat faster when wet.
  • On sunny days wear sunglasses, lip balm and sunscreen to protect your skin from UV rays and keep it moisturized to help prevent windburn.
  • Wear a face mask and goggles if you are participating in winter activities.
  • Keep moving to keep your blood flowing and maintain your body heat.
  • Know the weather conditions. Pay attention to Environment Canada weather alerts in your area.
  • Find shelter, and even if you find shelter, keep moving to maintain your body heat.
  • Winterize your home
  • Avoid alcohol. Consuming alcohol increases blood flow to the extremities of the body. You may actually feel warm even though you are losing heat.

Remember not to leave your pets outside. If it's too cold for you then it's too cold for them too.

For more information, contact the CK Public Health at 519.355.1071