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Winter First Aid

26th February 2019

Whether you are heading off to the slopes for some fun in the snow this Half Term or bracing the cold weather at home, our February blog focuses on First Aid for Cold Weather. Read on for lots of useful and practical information about how to respond to the many first aid incidents and emergencies you may come across this winter….


Any time your skin is exposed to temperatures below freezing, you’re at risk for frostbite. Frostbite occurs when skin cells and the tissues underneath freeze up causing damage to cell walls. It happens most often in the extremities, as well as in areas where large amounts of skin are exposed to the cold. Fingers, cheeks, chin, ears, and noses are particularly vulnerable. People working outside or children playing in the snow without gloves on have a greater chance of developing frostbite.

Signs of Frostbite:

  • Numbness in the affected area or ‘pins and needles’
  • Skin that has turned very pale or red
  • Hardened or stiffened skin
  • Blisters can also occur in severe cases

First Aid Treatment:

  • Move the person indoors or somewhere warm
  • Place frostbitten hands into armpits if you cannot find shelter indoors immediately.
  • Replace wet clothing with soft, dry clothing to stop further heat loss.
  • Warm the body by wrapping it in blankets and protecting the frostbitten parts
  • Do not rub or massage the affected areas – this can cause further damage
  • Do not attempt to rewarm the affected area without medical supervision!
  • Advise that they take the recommended dose of paracetamol to manage the pain.
  • If hypothermia is suspected call 999.


Hypothermia is a condition that occurs when someone’s body temperature drops below 35°C (95°F). Normal body temperature is around 37°C (98. 6°F). Children, the elderly, and people with low body fat percentages are at particular risk of hypothermia. It is important to treat someone with hypothermia immediately as it can quickly become life threatening!

Signs of Hypothermia:

  • Shivering, cold, and pale with dry skin
  • Unusually tired, confused, and have irrational behaviour
  • Reduced level of response
  • Slow and shallow breathing
  • Slow and weakening pulse.

First Aid Treatment:

  • Move the person to a warm and sheltered place
  • Remove wet items and replace with warm, dry clothes
  • Cover the person in blankets
  • Call 999 for emergency help
  • Monitor breathing, level or response and temperature
  • If alert given them a warm drink or chocolate

Sprains, Strains and Broken Bones

Icy pavements can prove hazardous, especially for the elderly, young children and those without appropriate footwear.

Sprains and strains can be incredibly painful and can be treated using:

  1. Rest – rest the injured limb using a crutch, sling or splint.
  2. Ice –  place a cold compress on the injured area to prevent swelling. Do not place ice directly     onto exposed skin!
  3. Compression – a bandage or sling can help to support the injured limb and reduce swelling.
  4. Elevation – raise the injured limb above the heart, again to reduce swelling.

It is advised that even minor sprains and strains are looked at by a doctor.

Broken bones or fractures are more serious and require immediate medical attention.

Signs of broken bones (fractures):

  • Swelling or bruising around the fracture
  • Pain and difficulty moving the area
  • Limbs may appear bent, twisted or shorter
  • A grating noise or feeling from the end of the broken bone
  • An open fracture where the broken bone protrudes through the skin
  • Shock; common when the thigh bone or pelvis is fractured

First Aid Treatment:

  1. Open Fracture
  • Cover wound with a sterile dressing
  • Apply pressure over the wound; not over a protruding bone
  • Secure with a bandage
  • Call 999 for emergency help
  • Treat for shock; cover the person in blankets and elevate legs over the heart if possible
  • Monitor breathing and level of response
  1. Closed Fracture
  • Support the injured limb above and below the joint
  • Place padding around the injury using a splint or bandage
  • Secure with a bandage
  • Call 999 for emergency help
  • Treat for shock; cover the person in blankets and elevate legs over the heart if possible
  • Monitor breathing and level of response

Cold Air and Asthma

Cold weather can trigger asthma symptoms and increase the risk of having an asthma attack. This is because cold or damp air can cause the airways to go into spasms, causing coughing, wheezing, a shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. The number of mould spores in the air also increases during cold, damp weather, which can trigger asthma symptoms too!

Reducing the risk of asthma attack during cold weather:

  • Avoid going outside when temperatures plunge below freezing
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a scarf. This warms the air before you breathe it in
  • Carry your inhaler with you at all times
  • Avoid exercising outdoors

If you or somebody else does have an asthma attack, here is our recommended response…

First Aid Treatment:

  • Sit up straight, loosen tight clothing and try to keep calm
  • Take 1 puff of your reliever (blue) inhaler every 30-60 seconds, up to 10 puffs
  • Call 999 if you feel worse at any point or after 10 puffs you feel no better
  • Repeat step 2 after 15 minutes, whilst you are waiting for an ambulance

For more First Aid advice and information why not try one of our Trainingly First Aid Courses or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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