Cold winters are a substantial part of Canadian culture. One of our most popular sports — hockey — revolves around our cold winters. It can be easy to forget how dangerous the temperature can get around here from the comfort of our heated homes.
The past few weeks have ushered in an arctic chill. With temperatures dipping to the minus 20s and wind chills registering in the minus 30s, the winter landscape can be treacherous at best. Frostbite is a disfiguring danger that crops up when we dip this low on the Celsius scale, yet many still don’t understand just how detrimental it can be.
Frostbite is an injury that is inflicted on your epidermis — or skin — when it is exposed to frigid temperatures. It is quite common in your extremities, or the parts of your body that are furthest away from the centre: your ears, fingertips, nose and toes.
Similar to a burn, frostbite is often categorized in three stages: first-degree, second-degree and third-degree. First-degree frostbite, or frostnip as it is adorably called, is a mild form that leaves no permanent damage to your skin. The area affected may feel cold, may burn or be completely numb, and will often be red in colour. Rewarming the area will bring back sensation and cause some pain, but you will be able to escape permanent damage from exposure. In short, you will be lucky.
Second-degree frostbite involves the formation of ice crystals in your soft tissue — this causes swelling and damage to your skin. Blisters may occur, and there is an increased risk of infection if they break open. Third-degree frostbite, or deep frostbite, on the other hand, is much like a third-degree burn. There is massive damage to your deeper tissues, which can include severe pain, clot formation and deep damage that may lead to necrosis — or death of the tissue.
Tissue damage, while terrifying, is not the worst that can happen if you are outside for any length of time during a cold snap. It is easy to become hypothermic when outside temperatures dip below zero. When hypothermia sets in, it is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops below 35 degrees Celsius and can cause symptoms like slurred speech, shallow breathing, confusion and loss of consciousness.
In short, you can lose both life and limb being out in the cold for too long. Most students have the means to stay warm, such as a winter coat, so there is little excuse not to take the proper precautions against the weather.
Factors outside of clothing can come into play as well. A big one is alcohol, because as we all know, having too much to drink can alter your decision making and make that half-hour walk home look better than paying for a cab. Additionally, alcohol causes your body to lose heat faster — putting drunk individuals doubly at risk when temperatures drop.
All in all, be extra careful when going for a night out, and keep tabs on your friends as well. While your layers might ruin your outfit, they just might save your life.
But there are those more vulnerable than drunk twentysomethings. Anyone without consistent access to shelter and warm clothes is at risk when the City of Bridges gets cold, and with that in mind, if you have the extra funds, consider donating money to a shelter in Saskatoon like the Lighthouse.
If you don’t have the funds to spare, consider checking the back of your closet for a spare jacket or sweater to donate to the Lighthouse as an alternative to donating money. The shelter is also set up to receive donations via recycling at SARCAN Drop & Go locations. Not only is the process to use a Drop & Go location typically faster but you’re also helping out those in need.
Erin Matthews / Opinions Editor
Jack Thompson / Sports & Health Editor
Photo: Yashica Bither