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Prevention of cold exposure and cold stress

Educating all participants in proper prevention is the key to decreasing the possibility of cold exposure injury or illness. Individuals unaccustomed to cold conditions who are participating at venues that may place them at risk for cold stress may need to take extra precautionary measures (e.g., proper clothing, warm-up routines, nutrition, hydration, sleep).

Individuals should be advised to dress in layers and try to stay dry. Moisture, whether from perspiration or precipitation, significantly increases body heat loss. Layers can be added or removed depending on temperature, activity and wind chill. Begin with a wicking fabric next to the skin; wicking will not only keep the body warm and dry, but also eliminates the moisture retention of cotton. For example, polypropylene and wool can wick moisture away from the skin and retain insulating properties when wet.

Add light-weight pile or wool layers for warmth and use a wind-blocking garment to avoid wind chill. Because heat loss from the head and neck may account for as much as 40 percent of total heat loss, the head and ears should be covered during cold conditions. Feet can be kept dry by wearing moisture-wicking or wool socks that breathe and should be dried between wears.

Maintain energy levels via the use of meals, energy snacks and carbohydrate/electrolyte sports drinks. Negative energy balance increases the susceptibility to cold weather. Stay hydrated, since dehydration affects the body’s ability to regulate temperature and increases the risks associated with cold exposure. Fluids are as important in the cold as in the heat.