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Cold Temperatures - What Happens to Your Body?

The cold can affect our bodies in many different ways, but this is all triggered by the hypothalamus, a gland in the brain. The hypothalamus acts as your natural thermostat, reacting to both hot and cold temperatures to ensure that your body is regulated at an optimum 37ºC. 

When you first get a little chilly in terms of overall body temperature, you may notice a reduction in warmth in your fingers and toes. This is because blood flows to the important core organs of the body so that they continue to function effectively and keep you alive. The hypothalamus doesn’t regard digits as vital to your life, and although you may be rather fond of your hands and feet, you very much need blood flowing to your heart and lungs. If your body temperature continues to fall, you may feel pins and needles in your extremities. This is caused by further blood moving away to fuel your core organs. 

You may also experience goose bumps. This reaction dates back to when humans had fur and is an ancient instinctive defence mechanism. When hairs stand upright, they trap more warmth than when lying flat. Incredibly, tiny muscles contract beneath your skin’s surface to force the hairs to stand on end and quickly reduce heat loss. 

If your body is still losing heat, your muscles can begin to shiver. This is another signal sent to your body from your hypothalamus. When your core body temperature drops, your skeletal muscles will begin to shake in small movements to create energy. This will in turn produce warmth in an attempt to raise your body temperature. At this point, your teeth may begin to chatter, which is also due to the movement of your muscles. 

What if I get too cold?

In serious cases of coldness, the body can experience frostbite. This is where ice crystals form in the cells in your limbs, causing them to then freeze and die. It usually occurs first in your fingertips, toes and tips of your earlobes. You will initially experience pins and needles, then your skin will stiffen and turn pale. Eventually, you go a shade of pale blue, followed by black when the cells die. If the affected limb then warms up, it can be very painful and cause extreme blistering.

Hypothermia only occurs in seriously extreme conditions, usually when your core body temperature drops below 35ºC. This is when your body can no longer produce the heat required to keep your temperature constant. 

Symptoms of hypothermia include violent shivering, confusion, difficulty moving, memory loss, tiredness, slurred speech and shallow breathing. It can ultimately result in death. 

Can anything survive in minus temperatures?

Polar animals can, of course, thrive in these conditions. They have thick winter coats of fur and large quantities of fat. Fat doesn’t transfer heat very well, so when you have several inches of the stuff covering your entire body like a walrus or polar bear, your body heat will be kept inside of your body. Unfortunately, humans have bare skin and relatively little fat, so we’re definitely not naturally built for these chilly temperatures. 

How can we combat cold work environments?

Despite not having natural protection like that of a polar bear, we can mimic its qualities by dressing correctly and taking precautions. This is particularly important news for workers who regularly work in subzero conditions, such as Coldstores, Warehouses or Freezers.

FlexiTog is a great example of protective workwear that is designed especially for these bitterly cold temperatures. From warm layered work clothes to cosy accessories like gloves, headwear and footwear, the brand provides insulated products to ensure that your body stays safe and warm. 

On top of wearing the correct clothing, you should also consider staying hydrated. Cut down on the caffeinated drinks and instead stick to water, soup and hot chocolate. Meanwhile, consider your diet and lifestyle away from work. Smoking and drinking alcohol can affect blood flow and your body’s ability to regulate it. A healthy, nutritious diet will help you to function safely in the cold.

To find out more about our Coldstore protective clothing, please visit our Coldstore range.

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