Taking Care of Your Body in Cold Temperatures

Jan 20, 2021

“I thought the Winter holidays were behind us!”

Truthfully, so did we, but sometimes Mother Nature has her own unexpected plans. The best weapon against the cold is education of what to look out for and, more importantly, what to do about it! So let’s use the opportunity of these record-breaking temperatures to educate ourselves.

If we are exposed to the cold for too long, our body’s core temperature drops below the normal range. This is called hypothermia, and it is broken up into three different stages:

Mild hypothermia:
89.6 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit
Moderate hypothermia:
82.4 to 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit
Severe hypothermia:
< 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit

Heat loss occurs mainly from losses from the skin and from the lungs during breathing. So cover up as best as you can! During mild hypothermia, the body has the general sensation of feeling cold. This is the time when we can add on more layers. Put on an extra sweater, throw on a blanket, or maybe do both! If the body’s temperature continues to drop to moderate hypothermia, the body begins to shiver. This is the body’s way of trying to generate heat. But if the cool temperature is too much, the kidneys become affected and we start to urinate more frequently in a process that is called “cold diuresis.” There are multiple reasons this happens, but eventually if the cool temperature persists for several hours, the kidneys will start to shut down and the excessive urination will eventually become very little urination. And finally, if the body sustains cold temperatures to the point of severe hypothermia, both the heart and the brain become affected. The heart rate will start to slow down, we start to feel very confused, and in its worst state, we can slip into a coma until the body shuts down completely.

“Well, I don’t want that!”

We don’t want that for you either! So if you start to feel cold during this weather, here are some helpful steps in preventing moderate or severe hypothermia:

1. Get out of the cold environment as soon as you start to feel cold. And if you start shivering, especially take notice that it’s time to seek a warmer location.

2. Remove any cold or wet clothing.

3. Warm, humidified oxygen is helpful and can be created by steaming up the bathroom with a hot shower.

4. Focus your heat application on areas that can rapidly affect the body’s core: the chest, back, and armpits.

5. If confusion develops, or if there are any concerns leading up to this, call 911. The hospital has various methods to actively rewarm the body.

Because severe cold-related injuries can affect our ability to control various diseases (such as diabetes and thyroid conditions), it is important to warm your body up as quickly as possible. And in the cases of severe hypothermia, this is done most effectively at the hospital.

“So what else should I know about?”

Glad you asked! Let’s talk about frostnip and frostbite!

Frostnip occurs when the superficial areas of the body are exposed to the cold. Think of when your nose becomes very cold as an example. The skin becomes pale or perhaps very red. You feel an itchy, burning sensation. The area becomes numb to the touch and is very cold. Fortunately, the cold-related injury is reversible with re-heating. The area develops an intense, burning sensation as it thaws. In some instances, reheating can lead to blisters in the area 36 hours later. There is nothing to fear if this happens. The skin underneath will heal normally.

Frostbite occurs when the deeper tissues become frozen and small ice crystals develop. The tissue becomes pale, blue, or black. If blisters form, they often will have blood within them, especially after rewarming is initiated. The damage to the area is typically permanent and depending upon what part of the body is involved, amputations or skin grafting is required. The affected body part must be rewarmed immediately to limit any underlying tissue damage. It is very important to note, though, that once a body part has been rewarmed, it is vital that you keep that body part warm. If it becomes cold again, the process of having ice crystals form, melt, and form again can actually create a worsened injury than if rewarming had not been initiated.

If you have any questions at all, please reach out to Remedy! We are here to help answer any of your questions regarding cold-related injuries or other health concerns. So bundle up and be safe out there!

Dr. Suneet Singh // Medical Director, Remedy

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