Cold Stress from Cold Conditions

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University of Oklahoma

Summary Statement

A presentation describing the problems that can occur from exposure to the cold in addition to ways to identify and to avoid cold stress.

Identifying and Responding to Cold Exposure Hazards

Cold Stress Factors

  • Temperature Of The Air Surrounding The Body.
  • Body Temperature.
  • Air Movement Around The Body.
  • Body Movement.
  • Length Of Exposure.

Cold Environment

  • Normal Body Temperature 98.6º F.
  • Body Temperature Drops Below 86º, Control System Becomes Ineffective.
  • Below 59º, Body Begins To Experience Impairment Of Many Functions.
  • Most Hypothermia Results When Ambient Temperature Is Between 30º And 40º F.
  • Increased Heat Lose To The Environment
  • Muscle Hypertonus, Resulting In Shivering, Is Body's Attempt To Maintain Body Temperature.


  • Prolonged Exposure To Cold Causes The Body To Lose Energy Faster Than It Is Produced.
  • Body Temperature Drops To Lower Than Normal.
  • Can Happen When Temperatures Are Above Freezing.

Conditions Affecting Hypothermia

  • Aging, Allergies, Poor Circulation, & Illness.
  • Self-imposed Conditions, Such As Drinking, Smoking, & Taking Sedatives Also Increase Risks.
  • Wet Clothing, Windy Conditions, & Poor Physical Condition.

Hypothermia Symptoms

  • Numbness, Stiffness, Drowsiness, Poor Coordination.
  • Slow Or Irregular Breathing And Heart Rate. Slurred Speech.
  • Cool Skin, And Puffiness In The Face Are Common.
  • May Seem Apathetic About Getting Out Of Cold.
  • Shivering And Teeth Chattering Is A Sure Sign That Body Temperature Is Too Low.
  • Victim First Feels Cold Then May Feel Mild Pain In Extremities.
  • Victim May Seem Confused & Disoriented Memory Lapses.
  • Worst-Case Results Can Cause Death.

Safety Procedures

  • Get Victim To Where It Is Warm.
  • Get Them Out Of Wet, Frozen, Or Tight Clothing; Keep Victim Dry.
  • Get Them Into Loose Warm Clothes Or Blankets.
  • Give Warm (Room Temperature) Liquids.
  • Do Not Give Alcohol Or Substances Containing Caffeine.
  • Warm Center Of Body First.
  • If Necessary, Seek Medical Assistance & Give CPR.


  • Most Serious, And Second Most Common, Cold Exposure Hazard.
  • Nose, Ears, Cheeks, Fingers, & Toes Most Often Affected.
  • Affected Area Doesn’t Get Enough Heat & Freezes.
  • Freezing Causes Blood Vessel Constriction.
  • Results In Lack Of Oxygen, Excess Fluid Buildup, Blistering, And Tissue Death.
  • May Not Be Aware Anything Bad Is Happening.
  • Recognized By Distant Pallor Of The Exposed Skin.
  • Skin Goes From White Or Grayish Yellow, To Reddish Violet, To Black.
  • Usual Feeling Of Being Really Cold, Then Numb.
  • May Get A Tingling Or Aching Feeling Or Brief Pain.
  • Damage To Skin Sometimes Caused Blisters
  • Constricted Blood Vessels Impair Blood Flow.
  • Can Cause Permanent Tissue Damage.
  • Victim Can Become Unconscious
  • Death May Result From Heart Failure.
  • If Necessary, Seek Medical Assistance & Give CPR.

Care Of Frostbite

  • Don’t Rub Affected Part.
  • Don’t Use Hot Baths, Or Heat Producing Devices.
  • Don’t Break Blisters.
  • Warm The Frozen Part With Clothing, Blankets, Or With Room Temperature Water.
  • Once Warm, Exercise The Part.
  • Exception: Do Not Walk On Frostbitten Feet.

Driving Emergency Preparedness

  • Serviceable Clothing (Sweatshirt, Jeans, Coveralls, Coat).
  • Distilled Water And Anti Freeze.
  • Easily Stored Food (Chips, Candy Bars, Cookies, Some Canned Foods, Etc.)
  • Matches, In A Waterproof Container.
  • Large Candles
  • Tool Kit (Pliers, Screwdrivers, Crescent Wrench, Jumper Cables, Duct Tape Electrician's Tape, Etc.)
  • A Couple Quarts Of Motor Oil And Multipurpose Lubricant, Such As WD40.
  • Ice Scraper, Sand or Kitty Litter, Traction Mat, Shovel.
  • Road Atlas.
  • Reflective Triangles or Flares.
  • Couple Blankets Or Comforters.

Be Prepared for A Driving Emergency




  • Prevention Is The Best Way To Deal With Cold Stress.
  • Don’t Drink Alcohol, Bathe, Smoke, Or Take Drugs Before Being Exposed To Cold.
  • Dress In Loose Layers Of Dry Clothing.
  • Cover Hands, Feet, Face, & Head.
  • In Cold Environment, Keep Moving.
  • Take Regular Breaks in Warm Places.