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Shivers, Frostbite And Hypothermia: The Effects Of Extreme Cold With AM-Storms Rdp Bjt

January 21, 1985

NEW YORK (AP) _ Extreme cold causes the body to lose water as well as heat, and fear of the cold can speed the process, says a doctor in Alaska who has been studying the effects of cold for 30 years.

″You have to be relaxed,″ said Dr. William Mills, director of the University of Alaska’s Center for High Latitude Health Research, which operates research stations on the slopes of Mt. McKinley.

When a person is exposed to cold, he should take the obvious steps to prevent heat loss, Mills said: wear layers of loose clothing, to avoid cutting off the circulation; stay dry; keep out of the wind, and stay outside only as long as he or she has to.

The only other thing to do, Mills said, is to keep calm. ″If you allow this to frighten you, you get into even more trouble,″ he said.

The harmful effects of cold begin with goose pimples and shivers, primitive biological mechanisms intended to conserve body heat, Mills said. ″These are the warning signs,″ he said. ″If you continue to lose heat, you’ll have a vasoconstrictive effect - all the small blood vessels (in the extremities) will clamp down and divert the heat to other parts of the body to maintain core temperature.″

Fear can also cause those small blood vessels to close, leaving the extremities more susceptible to frostbite, Mills said.

Cold can also cause dehydration, or excessive water loss, he said. ″The demands on the body to manufacture more heat use great quantities of water,″ he said.

In addition, cold can trigger excessive urination, aggravating the water loss. And the accumulation of fluid in the body core as small blood vessels tighten can send an erroneous message to the brain that the body has too much water. The brain responds by signalling the body’s systems to dump water.

If the temperature in the fingers or toes drops to 26 degrees, the cells in those body parts will begin to freeze: frostbite. The freezing temperature of human cells is lower than that of water because of the chemicals and salts dissolved in body fluids, Mills said.

″To combat the phenomenon, we rapidly thaw the part in water between 100 and 104 degrees,″ Mills said. Excessive heat can be disastrous, he said, because tissues that are frostbitten have no feeling and can easily be burned.

If the body’s core temperature - which is usually 98.6 degrees - drops to about 92 degrees, the first signs of hypothermia appear. ″You begin speaking like you have a mouthful of mush,″ Mills said.

The victim then starts to stumble, becomes sleepy, perhaps argumentative and then stuperous.

″This person needs medical aid and needs warming,″ Mills said.

The elderly are more susceptible to cold because they are generally less physically fit. And children have greater problems in part because in relation to their body weight they have greater skin area than adults, and thus more opportunity to lose heat, Mills said.

″And the cold seems to have a direct effect on the cartilage″ in children, he said. ″Freezing injury can affect the growth rate later on.″

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