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The Extremes: Cold

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

by Alice Schmid

Although California doesn’t often experience cold weather, it is still important to understand exactly what can happen to our bodies in the extremes. Let's say you step outside on a chilly day, around -25 degrees Fahrenheit. What's your body's response? What will happen? First, the hypothalamus, our body's thermostat, realizes the situation and takes several different courses of action to keep our major organs functioning properly. We will start to shiver to produce heat, our hairs rise and form goosebumps, and blood supply will constrict in outer regions such as the ends of our limbs. But all of this is only effective up to a certain point. It's past this where the larger problems lie.

The lack of warm blood flowing to our limbs can lead to tissue freezing and rupturing. This frostbite can happen in as little as 10 minutes after exposure to the cold. Hypothermia, the medical term for when the body temperature drops faster than it can produce heat, can set in in only 5 minutes. This only brings more trouble. The initial responses to the cold, such as shivering, slows down as you get colder, like a frozen engine. Your heart moves slower, your mind moves slower, and you'll only keep getting colder. Low enough body temperatures will put the body into a state of shock that puts us at risk of a heart attack, respiratory system failure and even death.

Cold weather can be dangerous, so if you find yourself in a chilly situation, remember to stay dry, keep moving and stay calm.

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