Staying Warm and Healthy in the Windy City

At this point, Chicagoans are celebrating the end of the Polar Vortex, which caused temperatures as low as -40 degrees (with the wind-chill) in our windy city. But, extreme shifts in temperatures can mean extreme health concerns to be aware of. Respiratory problems, the rise of the common cold, frostbite, and hypothermia are just some health problems that can arise in extreme weather changes.

Whenever outside temperatures fluctuate, there are shifts in the pollutants and viruses in the air, making people more susceptible to infection. Keeping one’s nose and mouth covered with a scarf when outdoors protects us from not only these air pollutants, but also keeps the air we breath in warmer before traveling to the lungs.  Family physician Dr. Joseph Szgalsky warns patients that breathing in cold air can “cause squeezing of the air tubes and lead to coughing and asthma flares,” and advises others to breath cold air in through the nose, which will warm the air up before it travels to the lungs. Furthermore, patients who are already sensitive to allergies, asthma, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease are even more susceptible to cold air respiratory flares.

Prolonged exposure to cold air may also cause the blood vessels in the skin to contract, thereby reducing blood and oxygen flow and causing frostbite—a phenomenon where the skin actually freezes. Frostbite can lead to sensitivity to cold, prolonged numbness, gangrene, and decay and death of tissue. It’s essential to protect your skin during these cold days and establish preventative barriers between your body and the outside.

Hypothermia is another side effect that may come about from prolonged cold exposure. This is a severe condition where the body temperature drops and organs are unable to work properly. Indicators of hypothermia include “cold feet and hands, puffy or swollen face, slow or slurred speech, and anger or confusion.”

To avoid these and other serious conditions, doctors advise continual hydration and appropriate layering of clothing when outdoors.

Source: N.J. News