LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - With freezing rain, sleet, and snow on the agenda, those outdoors have to be careful. There are several ways the body reacts to extreme weather conditions.
“The way our bodies try to maintain a level of homeostasis, or balance, is kind of amazing,” Dr. Mitchell Elliott from Norton Immediate Care Centers explained to WAVE 3 News.
He said blood vessels constrict in the arms, hands, feet, and legs when the skin tells the hypothalamus in the brain it is cold. Also, the brain slows down if someone stays in the cold for too long.
“It’s going to constrict those blood vessels which shunts more blood back into your core to keep your core as warm as possible, your brain as warm as possible,” Elliott said.
Humans don’t have control of it, but shivering happens for a reason.
”It actively sends a signal to your muscles usually in your arms in legs, big muscle groups, to try to rapidly vibrate which then creates heat,” Elliott said.
People freeze faster when they are wet, and Elliott said being in wet clothes can be dangerous. Wearing too many layers and sweating in the cold that can be dangerous, too. Body heat escapes from the body 25 times faster through water than air, so the body can lose an incredible amount of heat very quickly.
Frostbite can happen quickly, too, mostly on the checks, nose, and fingers because they are getting less blood flow.
”The first thing is that their hands start to hurt, they start to turn kind of pale,” Elliott said. “The next step is that blood supply will start to decrease.”
The doctor said one immediate reaction is to rub the hands together, but this may cause more damage to the skin.
Extreme conditions can also cause people to rush to the restroom a lot.
“As a result of more blood being shunted into your core, it’s going to stimulate a few different receptors that now think you are potentially fluid overloaded, because it’s moved more blood to your core. Your kidneys think your body wants to dump some of that fluid,” Elliott said.
He said drinking alcohol can also give a false sense of warmth. It makes the body feel warmer while losing body heat to the outside environment faster.
For information on frostbite and its signs, click here.