Risk Factors

Updated Tuesday December 22, 2015 by Cheryl Erickson.

Risk Factors: 

  • Low air temperature - When cold exposure exceeds or overwhelms the body's ability to compensate for heat loss due to the external environment.
  • Wind chill - Figure 1 provides a wind-chill index chart that identifies the risks associated with the interaction of the wind speed and air temperatures.
  • Moisture - Wet skin freezes at a higher temperature than dry skin.
  • Exposed skin - Heat loss occurs primarily through convection and radiation to the external environment, but may also include evaporation if the skin is moist. This is a concern for those exercising and sweating in cold environments.
  • Insulation - The amount of insulation from cold and moisture significantly affects thermoregulation.
  • Dehydration - Negatively influences metabolism and thermoregulation.
  • Alcohol - Increases peripheral blood flow and heat loss; can also disrupt the shivering mechanism.
  • Caffeine - Acts as a diuretic, causing water loss and dehydration.
  • Tobacco - Acts as a vasoconstrictor; increasing the risk of frostbite.

Coaches, athletes, officials and administrators should also be aware of the continuum of signs and symptoms associated with various classifications of cold-related pathologies: (Curtis, R. Outdoor Action Guide to Hypothermia and Cold Weather Injuries. Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University.