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How Does Someone Die Due to the Cold Weather?

How Does Someone Die Due to the Cold Weather?

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Every year, there are reports of deaths caused by extremely cold weather. This year is no exception, with news of such demises coming from many parts of the country.

But have you ever wondered how someone dies due to cold? What happens in the body during this time that is so fatal?

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When the Body Temperature Falls Below Normal

You must have used a thermometer to check if you have a fever some or the other time. And so, you must already know that the normal temperature of our body is 98.6°F (37°C).

When the body starts losing heat rapidly, but is unable to produce heat at the same speed, the body temperature could fall down to dangerous levels. In medical terms, this is known as hypothermia. 

Hypothermia occurs when this temperature falls below 95°F (35°C).

Exposing the body to severely cold environments for a prolonged period, or being unable to protect it against the cold, increases the risk of frostbite and hypothermia.

How Does Someone Die Due to the Cold Weather?
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What’s Our Body’s Defense System Against the Cold Weather?

When we come in contact with cold, our body starts losing heat — 90 percent of it through our skin and the rest through breathing. This loss of heat is aggravated with air, moisture or water.

However, the body has its own ways to deal with this heat deprivation. Our brain has a center, called hypothalamus, that controls the temperature of the body and works on giving it heat or coolness.

When we are exposed to cold, the blood vessels become thin to maintain the core temperature of the body and reduce the blood flow towards the outer ends like skin, hands, and toes. This process is called vasoconstriction (thinning of blood vessels). In this, the loss of heat from the body to the environment becomes limited.

The second response is shivering. It is the automatic defense of the body to keep itself warm by producing heat and increasing the temperature.

If we continue to be in contact with cold, then tissues in the skin and fingers can freeze, leading to cell damage or frostbite. To protect the skin from frostbite, the body goes through vasodilation in an attempt to increase blood flow.

In this way, the processes of vasoconstriction and vasodilation go on, causing further potential damage.

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When Does the Cold Become a Cause of Death?

The speed at which our body temperature will fall would depend on the body composition, temperature, atmosphere, and clothing.

Due to the narrowing of the blood vessels for a long duration, our heart is not able to function properly. The blood supply to many parts of the body, including the brain, is decreased, and this affects the function of these organs, putting the body in a state of shock.

When the body temperature comes down to 95°F, then there is shivering, weakness, and confusion — which is called mild hypothermia.

According to an article in Live Science, as the core temperature of the body decreases, the condition gets worse.

  • At 91°F (33°C), a person starts forgetting things.
  • At 82°F (28°C), a person may faint.
  • If the temperature reaches 70°F (21°C), the condition of severe hypothermia can occur, with a possibility of death.

Mayo Clinic explains that if hypothermia is not treated on time, the heart can stop functioning and the person may die.

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What Can You Do to Prevent Hypothermia?

How Does Someone Die Due to the Cold Weather?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if someone shows signs of frostbite or cold, take care of the following with medical help:

  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible
  • Get them into a warm room or shelter
  • Remove any wet clothing
  • Warm them under dry layers of blankets and clothing
  • Place areas affected by frostbite in warm-to-touch water
  • Since skin may be numb, victims of frostbite can harm themselves further by using things like fire, heat lamps, radiators, heating pads or stoves.

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