Chilling Effects – Understanding the Impact of Freezing-Cold Temperatures on Your Body


7 min read

Winter is the time of the year that most people eagerly await because of the festivities, celebrations, and holidays, as well as to enjoy the cool weather. However, do you know that extremely cold temperatures can constrict your blood vessels and may thicken your blood? It may cause shallow breathing among people, especially caused by cold, dry air that narrows the upper airways and causes trouble breathing in cold weather. Hence, it is important to understand the effects of cold, harsh weather and accordingly wrap up in proper warm clothes to avoid the extreme temperature and its effects.

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The Body’s Response to Cold

When exposed to extreme cold weather, your body shows two different psychological responses:  

1. Immediate Reactions:

Peripheral Vasoconstriction and Shivering are the symptoms that the body shows against the cold temperature as an immediate reaction. In vasoconstriction, the blood vessels become narrow, caused by small wall muscles. If this condition happens, it slows or blocks the blood flow. This condition can be either mild or severe and may be the result of any disease, psychological conditions, etc. On the other hand, shivering is an instinctive response of the body to produce heat during extreme exposure to cold environments.

2. Long-Term Adaptations:

The human body uses several mechanisms to limit heat loss to defend body temperature. Increased metabolism by tightening blood vessels is a way to decrease heat lost during cold exposure and keep it warm. Muscle acts as a source of the rise in metabolic heat production in the body during winter.

Brown fat is a body fat that keeps people warm in extreme cold conditions. This fat contains energy that helps the body to burn calories. Hence, Brown Fat’s production occurs in cold regions, activating it just before shivering starts.

3. Effects on Skin and Extremities:

A drop in temperature also affects the skin. With the cold temperatures and lack of humidity, the human skin finds it difficult to retain moisture. This makes the skin itchy, dry, and cracked in some parts of the skin, like lips, heels, etc.

Frostbite is a common concern faced by people under freezing temperatures. Frostbite makes your skin numb. You may experience a loss of feeling and color in the affected areas like the nose, cheeks, fingers, toes, etc.

There are several stages of Frostbite, such as frostnip, superficial frostbite, and deep frostbite.

1. Frostnip – This is a mild form of frostbite where you may experience numbness in some areas due to continued exposure.

2. Superficial frostbite – Here, you may experience slight changes in skin color.

3. Deep frostbite – In this stage, frostbite affects all layers of skin and tissues underneath, making the skin look white and blisters may appear.

Prevention Tips to Avoid Frostbite Damage

  • Wear loose and comfortable layers of warm clothes, including a top layer of wind and waterproof for going outdoors
  • Take special care to protect your feet and toes with socks. If required, wear two pairs of socks to avoid the cold
  •  Avoid the exposure of your head and ear to the extremely cold breeze with a warm and heavy woolen cap
  • Wear warm mittens on your hands to protect them from frosting
  • Wear proper boots and shoes to stop snow from getting inside your shoes
  • Finally, don’t forget to stay hydrated, as dehydration can increase the risk of frosts.

Skin Dryness and Irritation

The level of moisture in cold air is less. As the environment surrounding you becomes dry, the skin becomes drier. Moreover, using heaters to warm your interiors can also increase skin dryness, making it scratchy and uncomfortable.

Dermatologists suggest that protecting your hands, face, and feet is important in extremely cold weather to avoid dry skin.

To prevent extreme dryness and irritation of the skin in the cold winter, you can strategies a skincare routine. Here are some tips:

  • Always keep your skin moisturized during the day as well as at night
  • Use sunscreen even inside the house or in cloudy weather conditions
  • Avoid hot showers as they may strip off further moisture content of your skin

Impact on Respiratory System

Cold and dry air also affects the respiratory system of many people, especially those with chronic lung diseases. The dry air of cold winter aggravates the airways of humans, leading to conditions like wheezing, coughing, and cold weather breathing problems. It may induce constriction or bronchial tightening, leading to cough and bronchial irritation. It may also aggravate conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.

Further, potential respiratory challenges are also faced by people in the winter because of breathing in cold air. Winter season intensifies the likelihood of getting cold-induced asthma or winter asthma. This condition is caused by an asthma patient’s extreme exposure to cold and dry air. Cold-induced asthma may enhance the chances of asthma attacks among such people.

To prevent it, you must understand your bodily condition and manage the symptoms accordingly. Also, try to stay indoors as much as possible.

Influence on Cardiovascular Health

When the temperature dips down in winter, the blood vessels of humans become narrow to limit the loss of heat in the body. However, this narrowing of blood vessels, termed vasoconstriction, may create extra pressure in the blood circulation of the rest of the body. This requires the heart to work harder to pump the needed blood supply. This may increase heart rate and blood pressure, causing stress on the heart. Although it is your body’s normal response against the cold, people with existing heart conditions like angina should exercise precautions to avoid untoward health conditions. They need to be extra careful to stay warm. Prolonged exposures to very cold temperatures may also cause Hypothermia.

Hence, it is important to recognize symptoms and take emergency measures to stay fit and healthy during winter.

Safety Measures in Cold Temperatures

Here are some safety measures for cold temperatures to avoid extreme bodily conditions:

1. Proper Dressing:

It is important to dress warmly in winter to shield your body from the cold. Choosing the right clothing and wearing layers is important here. Avoid wearing cotton and linen in the winter season, and wear fabrics like polyester fleece, wool, and polypropylene.

Also, remember to incorporate the layering technique for better comfort. Wear enough layers to keep yourself warm. However, don’t wear layers that make you uncomfortable while performing your duties. Wear loose-fitting clothes, as tight ones may constrict blood vessels. Don’t forget to protect your head and ears. Wear warm socks and shoes to keep your feet warm.

2. Importance of Hydration:

Along with keeping yourself warm, it is equally important to keep yourself hydrated. Your body dehydrates when it doesn’t receive enough fluid to work properly. Dehydration may cause dizziness, headaches, and fatigue. So, drinking warm liquids is important. Avoid drinking alcohol or too much caffeine. Choose warm water, milk, green tea, and energy drinks. Aim for at least 2 liters of water daily to stay hydrated in the cold weather.

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As discussed, extreme cold weather can pose many health risks for humans depending on the dipping temperature outside and exposure of the skin to the cold. Especially for people moving from warm weather to extremely cold ones, your skin and lungs are most affected.

Hence, wearing appropriate clothes in layers is important both inside and outdoors. Layering helps your body to be warm despite the extreme weather outside, irrespective of the activity you are doing, like walking your dog, shoveling snow, etc.

When it comes to freezing temperatures, preparing to survive the cold temperature ahead is important. Incorporate the tips on how to avoid cold in winter for winter wellness. Stay active by performing yoga or any physical activity indoors. The psychological effect of cold weather is another significant aspect to note here. When it comes to mental health in the winter season, many people become prone to get depressed, anxious, and stressed. Practicing stress management and following a good diet are important to avoid stress and related conditions. Exposure to sunlight is another vital thing in winter as it gives you ample vitamin D and strengthens your immune system.
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Dec 26, 2023
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PayBima is an Indian insurance aggregator on a mission to make insurance simple for people. PayBima is the Digital arm of the already established and trusted Mahindra Insurance Brokers Ltd., a reputed name in the insurance broking industry with 17 years of experience. PayBima promises you the easy-to-access online platform to buy insurance policies, and also extend their unrelented assistance with all your policy related queries and services.

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