Quiz: Do You Know How to Stay Safe in Cold Weather?

By Chris Woolston, M.S.

You don't need to stay inside just because the temperature is plunging. As anyone who has ever strapped on ice skates or hopped on a sled can attest, cold-weather fun is some of the best fun of all. Of course, cold weather also calls for caution. How much do you know about staying safe when it's cold outside? Take this short quiz to find out.

1. Which of these is a common symptom of hypothermia?

a. A body temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit

b. Confusion

c. Slurred speech

d. All of the above

2. You can only develop hypothermia if the outside temperature is below freezing.

True

False

3. What's the first thing you should do if you think someone has hypothermia?

a. Get him out of the cold and seek immediate medical help

b. Put him in a hot bath

c. Massage his hands and feet

d. Put a heating pad on his hands or feet

4. Which of these statements about cold air is true?

a. Cold air can irritate the airways and cause shortness of breath.

b. Cold air can weaken the immune system, making a person vulnerable to colds.

c. It's too dangerous to exercise outside if the temperature falls below 0 degrees F.

d. All of the above

5. Which of these is the WRONG way to treat frostbite?

a. Soak frostbitten areas in warm water

b. Massage frostbitten areas

c. Use body heat to warm frostbitten areas

d. Immediately check for signs of hypothermia

6. If a person has both frostbite and hypothermia, treating the hypothermia is the top priority.

True

False

7. Because you don't sweat much in cold weather, you don't need to drink much water while exercising in the cold.

True

False

8. Which of these combinations will give you the LEAST amount of protection against the cold?

a. A thick cotton sweatshirt and a jacket

b. A Lycra shirt, a cotton sweatshirt, and a windbreaker

c. A wool sweater and a windbreaker

d. A silk shirt, a cotton sweatshirt, and a jacket

Answers

1. Which of these is a common symptom of hypothermia?

The correct answer is d. All of the above

All of these symptoms are signs of serious trouble. Because hypothermia can make it impossible to think clearly, a person could have hypothermia and not be aware of it. If you think someone is suffering from hypothermia, get him or her to a warm place and get immediate medical help. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hypothermia is a significant cause of preventable death in the United States.

2. You can only develop hypothermia if the outside temperature is below freezing.

The correct answer is: False

Hypothermia can occur anytime the body's warming system can't keep up with heat loss. The condition is a major threat when the thermometer plunges, but it can also happen at temperatures of 40 degrees F or above, especially if a person is wet. Infants and the elderly are especially at risk for hypothermia: Babies can't increase their body heat by shivering, and they tend to lose body heat more easily than adults do. Older people often have a slower metabolism and are less active than younger adults, making it harder for their bodies to maintain a proper temperature.

3. What's the first thing you should do if you think someone has hypothermia?

The correct answer is: a. Get him out of the cold and seek immediate medical help.

If it's not possible to get the victim to a warm place, at least try to get him or her to a sheltered place out of the wind. While waiting for help, do what you can to warm up the victim. Take off any wet clothes, wrap the person in a blanket, and give warm, nonalcoholic beverages. If you're warm, you can crawl under the blanket and share your body heat with skin-to-skin contact. Don't massage the person or apply direct heat from a heating pad or hot water. Putting a heating pad or hot water on the arms or legs is especially dangerous. Cold blood will rush to the center of the victim's body, and body temperature will plummet.

4. Which of these statements about cold air is true?

The correct answer is: a. Cold air can irritate the airways and cause shortness of breath.

Exercising in cold weather can cause asthma-like symptoms even in people who don't have asthma. Don't be alarmed if you just start wheezing a bit while ice-skating or cross-country skiing. If breathing troubles interfere with your enjoyment of the outdoors, talk to your doctor.

5. Which of these is the WRONG way to treat frostbite?

The correct answer is: b. Massage frostbitten areas

As with hypothermia, massage isn't helpful for victims of frostbite. In fact, even a gentle massage can permanently damage frostbitten skin. Instead of rubbing frostbitten areas, slowly warm them with lukewarm water or body heat. If you're in an area where warm water is unavailable, a person with frostbitten toes can warm them against another person's skin.

6. If a person has both frostbite and hypothermia, treating the hypothermia is the top priority.

The correct answer is: True

Hypothermia is a potentially life-threatening emergency. Before you even begin to worry about frostbite, make sure the victim is warm enough to survive.

7. Because you don't sweat much in cold weather, you don't need to drink much water while exercising in the cold.

The correct answer is: False

Sweat evaporates quickly in cold, dry air. If you're exercising in cold weather, you can sweat buckets without really noticing. Be sure to drink plenty of nonalcoholic beverages before, during, and after any cold-weather exercise. Alcohol not only compromises coordination and judgment, but affects the body's ability to regulate temperature.

8. Which of these combinations will give you the LEAST amount of protection against the cold?

The correct answer is: a. A thick cotton sweatshirt and a jacket

Cotton soaks up moisture and lets body heat escape. When going outside in cold weather, your first layer of protection should be a shirt that wicks moisture away from the skin, such as wool, silk, Lycra, or Spandex. The next layer should be something bulky like a sweatshirt or a sweater. A waterproof windbreaker over the top will keep you warm and dry. Of course, the ensemble wouldn't be complete without a hat, scarf, mittens (which are warmer than gloves), and the proper footwear. A lot of body heat escapes through the hands and head, so it makes sense to pay as much attention to these protective coverings as to warm jackets.

-- Chris Woolston, M.S., is a health and medical writer with a master's degree in biology. He was the staff writer at Hippocrates, a magazine for physicians, and he has also covered science issues for Time Inc. Health, WebMD, Los Angeles Times, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. His reporting on occupational health earned him an award from the northern California Society of Professional Journalists.

References

MayoClinic.com. Hypothermia. June 9, 2009.

Winter Weather: Hypothermia. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. December 7, 2007.

Extreme cold: A prevention guide to promote your personal health and safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 2004.

Don't come in from the cold: You can still exercise outdoors in the winter. University of California at Davis.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hypothermia-Related Deaths -- United States, 1999-2002 and 2005. March 2006. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5510a5.htm

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