How can I avoid hypothermia?

Alfred D. Sacchetti, MD
Emergency Medicine
To prevent hypothermia, avoid conditions that cause heat loss. Follow the acronym C.O.L.D.:
  • Cover up: Wear a hat or other protective covering to prevent body heat loss from your head, face and neck. Wear mittens instead of gloves because the fingers stay warmer when next to each other.
  • Overexertion: Avoid activities that cause you to sweat a lot. This can cause you to lose body heat more quickly.
  • Layers: Dress in layers. Wear loose-fitting, layered, light-weight clothing. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers hold body heat better than cotton. The outermost layer should be non-permeable to minimize the effects of strong winds.
  • Dry. Stay as warm and dry as possible. Wear an extra pair of socks and properly fitted, insulated winter boots. The boots should have treads on the sole for traction. If you do get wet, get out of the clothing as soon as possible.
Also, eat well, including plenty of carbohydrates such as pasta, potatoes, and bread for fuel. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and fight off the cold.
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Please note, the information contained on this website is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider if you have questions regarding your medical condition or before starting any new treatment. In the event of a medical emergency always call 911 or proceed to your nearest emergency care facility.
Your best defense against hypothermia is dressing accordingly.
  • Dress in layers: The small amount of air between the layers actually helps to trap heat and keep you nice and toasty.
  • Avoid cotton: Cotton loses all of its insulating properties the second it gets wet.
  • Find the right fabrics: Wool will continue to insulate well even after multiple melted snowball hits.
  • Skip the lotion: Many people coat themselves with lotion, or even Vaseline, thinking this will insulate them from the cold. In reality, this may actually accelerate the development of hypothermia. So, leave those things in the jar.
  • Skip the nightcap: Alcohol creates a false sense of warmth, while actually accelerating hypothermia.
An important strategy in preventing cold injuries is to layer clothing. Be sure to wear multiple layers of thin clothing instead of one or two thick layers. The air between the layers actually helps in preserving heat. This also allows for removal of outer layers as the body warms up during activity. In a wet environment it is important to wear water-resistant clothing, as wet clothing will speed up heat loss.
(This answer provided for NATA by the Marist College Athletic Training Education Program.)
Leigh Vinocur, MD
Emergency Medicine
The acronym COLD can help you remember how to avoid hypothermia:

Cover - yourself and all exposed areas, including hands, face and neck
Overexertion - avoid activities that cause you to sweat which can make you damp and lose more heat
Layers - wear loose layers that trap air and insulate. Your outer layer should be tight-weave and water repellant
Dry - stay as dry as possible. Make sure that no snow can enter into your clothing and get you damp and wet

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.