Dr. Ken Polin, pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Primary Care – Town & Country Pediatrics, answers questions about the health risks associated with frigid forecasts.
Eyeballs can’t freeze because you can close your eyes. Even with the extreme temperatures we will see in Chicago it’s super unlikely.
However, one issue that often gets overlooked is the risk of ultraviolet light. When there is a lot of snow like we have had, there is an eye risk associated with ultraviolet lights. It’s important to protect your eyes not from the freezing so much, but from the potential, harmful ultraviolet (UV) that will be reflected from a bright, sunny day off a snowy background. Sunglasses should be ultraviolet protected. Cheaper sunglasses that don’t offer that protection actually allow more ultraviolet light to enter the eye by blocking the visible light and as a result cause the pupil to dilate allowing more of the harmful UV to enter.
Some people are at risk of developing bronchial spasms when exposed to cold air—i.e. wheezing.
The way our airways are designed allows the air entering the nose to humidify and warm by the time it hits the lungs. However if you mouth breathe, it might be more of an issue so that’s why it’s important to wear appropriate protective gear (i.e. face mask warmers, scarves).
Just a few minutes outside in these extreme temps can cause exposed skin to be at risk for frostbite. But with proper layering, you can protect against frostbite and other risks. I certainly would not encourage anyone to go outside if they don’t have to in this weather unless the benefit outweighs the risk.
Hypothermia is a generalized condition where the body temperature drops and as a result there are all sorts of metabolic things going on. Your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced.
Frostbite is a focal condition where a focal or multiple parts of the body can be involved. Frostbite usually affects peripheral tissue such as tissue, ears, fingers, nose. The tissue is deprived of oxygen and blood.
More subtle signs such as:
Go to the emergency room. If you are truly hypothermic and it gets severe, one can suffer cardiac arrest. Rewarming needs to be done not just externally but internally. Medical professionals will warm the body with warm IV fluids and warming lamps.
Kids are more at risk for hypothermia because they have a larger surface area relative to their weight so they have a larger area to lose heat.