Back to Top Skip to main content

If the weather outside is frightful, a little preparation can make it delightful

Army 2nd Lt. David Stringer, 452nd Combat Support Hospital, leads his group through snowy terrain during winter warfare training at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Felix R. Fimbres) Army 2nd Lt. David Stringer, 452nd Combat Support Hospital, leads his group through snowy terrain during winter warfare training at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Felix R. Fimbres)

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

When it comes to weathering cold temperatures, preparation is key. The biggest risk factors and those most commonly associated with winter weather exposure are hypothermia and frostbite. Both are significant risks for both service personnel on the job and civilians enjoying winter sports at this time of year.

Frostbite occurs when a part of the body – usually an extremity such as fingers and toes– freezes. In the most severe cases, frostbitten tissue may require amputation. The incidence of frostbite is four times that of hypothermia, according to Army Maj. David DeGroot, deputy chief of the Department of Clinical Investigation at Tripler Army Medical Center.

Hypothermia occurs when body temperature drops due to excessive heat loss, inadequate heat production, or a combination of both. This can happen due to sweating in cold air, accidental water immersion, or simply being exposed to extreme cold for a prolonged time period. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech, and exhaustion. Symptoms of frostnip, the first stage of frostbite, include skin redness, pain, or a tingling sensation. Frostbite sets in with numbness, joint and muscle fatigue, and a hardening of the skin, usually starting with the toes and fingers or other extremities.

Service members stationed in cold climates are prone to other winter weather afflictions as well, according to DeGroot. Trench foot, a common ailment of British soldiers during the Falkland Islands War, is caused by prolonged exposure to cold and damp conditions, which can lead to severe tissue damage. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a risk for anyone using space heaters in field tents without proper ventilation. For service members and outdoor enthusiasts alike, snow blindness and sunburn are conditions that can result from the bright sun reflecting off snow. Proper eye protection and sunscreen are a must when engaging in any outdoor winter activities, especially on sunny days.

A DHA review of cold weather injuries ranked frostbite as the most common. Certain demographic groups were at greater risk of such injuries, including females and younger Army recruits. DeGroot noted that these statistics help leaders ensure their field soldiers are well-trained and properly clothed to withstand the many risks associated with cold weather exposure.

“The best precaution is dressing properly, keeping the body warm and dry,” said DeGroot. “Thanks to remarkable progress made in developing protective cold weather clothing and gear, there are very few places on this planet that people can’t survive.” For service members and outdoor adventurers alike, he advises wearing several layers of loose clothing that can be removed easily if needed. “It’s also important to layer clothing correctly, choosing pieces made of wicking fabric to wear closest to your skin that won’t absorb moisture,” he said. For example, cotton should not be used at the bottom layer because it will trap moisture; the cooling effect could lead to hypothermia.

Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures is a greater risk factor for those who spend long periods of time outdoors – not just for the military but hunters and hikers as well. DeGroot cautioned against use of alcohol or tobacco products when venturing outdoors in winter because these substances affect blood flow to the skin and can increase risks of hypothermia or frostbite. Alcohol consumption can also impair judgement regarding how much exposure to cold the body can withstand.

Dehydration is another often overlooked cold weather risk factor, DeGroot stated, particularly for military members on patrol who drink less in order to minimize the need to relieve themselves in subzero temperatures. The result can be dizziness, confusion, or drowziness.

“For the military, outdoor training or activities are never canceled solely due to cold weather because they insure military members are properly outfitted with the clothing and gear they will need,” said DeGroot, who stressed the critical need for immediate medical attention when the warning signs of hypothermia or frostbite are observed.

Taking proper precautions can ensure a successful outdoor experience in cold temperatures, whether at work or play.

You also may be interested in...

HPV vaccine now recommended for those up to age 45

Article
1/14/2020
https://www.nfid.org/infectious-diseases/hpv/ Recent CDC and FDA guidance recommends that men and women up to 45 years of age get vaccinated to protect against the Human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and can cause certain cancers and genital warts. More than 14 million new HPV infections occur in the U.S. each year, and about 80 percent of sexually active men and women are infected with HPV at some point in their lives. (National Foundation for Infectious Diseases image)

HPV shot protects against a host of diseases in men, women

Recommended Content:

Conditions and Treatments | Health Readiness | Preventive Health | Men's Health | Women's Health | Immunization Healthcare | Vaccine-Preventable Diseases | Vaccine Recommendations

U.S. Transportation Command: DoD’s manager for global patient movement

Article
1/9/2020
An ambulance bus backs up to the Mississippi Air National Guard C-17 Globemaster III as Airmen prepare to unload patients at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. The bus transports the ill and/or injured to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. JBA and Travis Air Force Base, California, serve as the primary military entry points or hubs for patient distribution within the continental United States. (U.S. Air Force photo by Karina Luis)

On a weekly basis, USTRANSCOM moves up to 40 patients from overseas to CONUS

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Military Hospitals and Clinics

Joint Chiefs say mind, body, spirit all part of Total Force Fitness

Article
1/7/2020
Image of a Marine climbing a rope ladder

2020 focus on factors making service members, families “resilient”

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Operation Live Well

Navy Medicine demonstrates Virtual Health options to Africa

Article
1/6/2020
Air Force Staff Sgt. Danny Lim practices conducting a throat examination on Army Sgt. Harvey Drayton at Chabelley Airfield, Djibouti. Drayton and Lim were introduced to the Telehealth In A Bag system during a recent visit that included personnel from Regional Health Command Europe's virtual health team. (U.S. Army photo by Russell Toof)

Djibouti hosts the largest U.S. American military base on the African continent

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Military Hospitals and Clinics

Air Force studies fatigue, sleep to enhance readiness

Article
12/31/2019
An Air Force Airman sleeps inside a C-17 Globemaster III during a flight over an undisclosed location in support of Operation Freedom Sentinel. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration)

Good sleep habits are closely related to overall health and performance

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Sleep

Guard and Reserve crucial to CCATT expansion

Article
12/20/2019
Air Force Maj. Lori Wyatt, a Critical Care Air Transport Team nurse, assigned to the 167th Airlift Wing, Martinsburg, West Virginia, assembles a gurney during a casualty evacuation training at the Raleigh County Memorial Airport. The Air Force is increasing the number of CCATTs to support future readiness requirements. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. De-Juan Haley)

The Guard and Reserve support the bulk of aeromedical evacuation, CCATT capabilities

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Air Force, Army medics save groom

Article
12/19/2019
Airmen from the 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron simulate life-saving procedures to a training manikin onboard a KC-135 Stratotanker during an exercise out of Kadena Air Base, Japan. The 18th AES maintains a forward operating presence, and was instrumental in saving an Airman’s life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Seefeldt)

NCO’s first aeromedical evacuation mission was definitely challenging

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Military Hospitals and Clinics

McCaffery AMSUS Remarks 2019

Publication
12/5/2019

McCaffery statements made during the 2019 annual meeting of AMSUS

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

McCaffery calls for military medical strategic framework for warfighting readiness

Article
12/5/2019
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Tom McCaffery speaks on Thursday at the annual meeting of AMSUS, the Society of Federal Health Professionals. McCaffery announced to the nearly 2,000 conference attendees that he has asked the Military Health System's senior leadership to develop and codify a formal strategic framework to guide integrating and optimizing all MHS components to meet his vision. (MHS photo)

'New reality' includes tight synchronization, expanding partnerships

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | MHS Transformation

MSMR Vol. 26 No. 12 - December 2019

Report
12/1/2019

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Editorial: Mitigating the risk of disease from tick-borne encephalitis in U.S. military populations; Tick-borne encephalitis surveillance in U.S. military service members and beneficiaries, 2006–2018; Case report: Tick-borne encephalitis virus infection in beneficiaries of the U.S. military healthcare system in southern Germany; Update: Cold weather injuries, active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, July 2014–June 2019

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

Military medical reform is an opportunity to make trauma care better

Article
11/21/2019
Army Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, U.S. Army Surgeon General, spoke to surgeons at the Defense Committee on Trauma and Committees on Surgical and En Route Combat Casualty Care Conference held in San Antonio, Texas, on November 13. He spoke about the plans for current and future trauma and surgical initiatives within Army Medicine and that surgeons must be involved in improving trauma care during this time of military medical reform. (U.S. Army Image by Rebecca Westfall)

There is an opportunity to bring real change to how the military handles combat trauma care

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

Preventing seasonal influenza

Article
11/13/2019
Air Force Staff Sgt. Jaqueline Mbugua and members of the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 102nd Medical Group traveled to the Roxy Theater on Joint Base Cape Cod to provide flu shots to Airmen Nov. 2, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Swanson).

The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated every year

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Immunization Healthcare | Immunizations

The art of moulage

Article
11/6/2019
Combat Medic Training program students at the Medical Education and Training Campus at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston conduct an emergency cricothyrotomy on a “casualty” during simulation training. The “wounded” manikin also presents with facial burns that were created with moulage techniques. (DoD photo by Lisa Braun)

METC combat medic manikins rock realistic wounds

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness

MSMR Vol. 26 No. 11 - November 2019

Report
11/1/2019

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Editorial: Mitigating the risk of disease from tick-borne encephalitis in U.S. military populations; Tick-borne encephalitis surveillance in U.S. military service members and beneficiaries, 2006–2018; Case report: Tick-borne encephalitis virus infection in beneficiaries of the U.S. military healthcare system in southern Germany; Update: Cold weather injuries, active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, July 2014–June 2019

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Public Health

The Defense Health Agency participates in AUSA 2019 annual meeting

Article
10/18/2019
U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, DHA Director, discusses upcoming Military Health System changes designed to improve the readiness of combat forces during a seminar held at the Association of the United States Army 2019 Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C.  Lt. Gen. Place explained how DHA is standardizing systems to improve healthcare across the enterprise.  (DHA Photo by Hannah Wagner)

Focus on quality care, innovation at home and on the battlefield

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Preventive Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 40

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing: Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.