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SEVEN COLD, HARD FACTS FOR WINTER SPORTS, RECREATION

Winter sports, such as skiing, can be fun, but people need to understand the threats the weather conditions impose. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Samuel Bendet)

Winter sports, such as skiing, can be fun, but people need to understand the threats the weather conditions impose. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Samuel Bendet)

SILVER SPRINGS, MD. -- According to officials at the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, being able to recognize these seven dangers is key to avoid cold-weather exposure injuries.

1. FROSTBITE is the freezing of skin tissue that can extend through all layers of the skin and freeze muscle and bone. Frozen skin may turn red and then gray-blue with blisters. In the worst cases, the skin dies and turns blue-black, often requiring amputation. Deep frozen skin feels "wooden" to the touch, with zero mobility of the affected body part. Instantaneous frostbite can occur when skin comes into contact with super-cooled liquids including petroleum, oils and lubricants, antifreeze and alcohol, all of which remain liquid at temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. FROSTNIP is the freezing of the top layers of the skin and is considered the first degree of frostbite. Frostnip usually results from short-duration exposure to cold air or contact with a cold object, such as metal. Exposed skin such as the cheeks, ears, fingers, hands and wrists are more likely to develop frostnip.

3. CHILBLAINS is a nonfreezing cold injury that results from repeated, prolonged skin exposure to cold and wet temperatures above freezing. Exposed skin becomes red, tender and hot to the touch and is usually itchy. These symptoms can worsen to an aching, "pins-and-needles" sensation, then numbness. Chilblains can develop in exposed skin in only a few hours. The most commonly affected areas are the ears, nose, fingers and toes.

4. IMMERSION foot/trench foot is a nonfreezing injury that results from prolonged exposure to wet conditions between 32 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, or inactivity with damp socks and boots. Immersing feet in cold water, infrequent socks changing, poor hygiene and allowing sweat to accumulate in boots or gloves will soften the skin, causing tissue loss and often infection.

5. HYPOTHERMIA is a potentially life-threatening condition that involves cooling of the body's core temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia occurs when body heat loss exceeds heat production because of prolonged cold exposure. Although hypothermia usually is associated with cold climates, it can occur at temperatures well above freezing, especially when a person is exposed to wet conditions for an extended period of time.

6. DEHYDRATION, most commonly associated with hot weather, is a lack of water in the body. Less understood is that it's also easy to become dehydrated in cold weather, when many people fail to drink enough liquids and underestimate fluid loss from sweating. Proper hydration is especially important in cold weather because dehydration adversely affects the body's resistance to the cold, increasing the chance of injury.

7. SUNBURN is another condition most commonly associated with hot weather, but is also a serious winter risk. Wear sunscreen. The sun reflecting off the snow can cause wickedly painful sunburn that could land you in the hospital. Additionally, wear sunglasses. Sun reflecting off of snow can sunburn the whites of one's eyes. It's painful and unattractive, in addition to being bad for eye health. Be sure to wear sunglasses, even on partly cloudy days, if you're spending time around snow.