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Here's How Cold Weather Can Kill You

An explanation of hypothermia, and the not quite as dangerous but still pretty bad frostbite
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 31, 2019 2:34 PM CST
Photographers set up tripods along the shore of Lake Michigan before sunrise, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, in Chicago.   (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

(Newser) – With at least eight deaths linked to the polar vortex currently gripping much of the US, LiveScience offers an answer to the question many likely have on their minds: How does a person freeze to death? As the site explains, the two main health problems that are a danger in cold weather are hypothermia and frostbite. Frostbite, which occurs when the body's peripheral temperatures drop to dangerously low levels, is easier to get, but hypothermia—which occurs when the body's core temperature drops to a dangerously low level—is the one that can be fatal. If a person's core temperature drops from the typical 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit to 95 or lower, they have hypothermia and their critical organs will stop working properly. Mild hypothermia causes symptoms like shivering, weakness, and confusion; if core temperature reaches 91 degrees, amnesia might set in.

At 82 degrees, a person may lose consciousness. Anything below 70 degrees is considered profound hypothermia, and could be fatal. The improper functioning of the heart caused by hypothermia leads to reduced blood flow, which can then lead to shock, liver failure, kidney failure, and, ultimately, complete heart failure and death. At temperatures of -30 degrees, a person improperly dressed for the cold could experience hypothermia in just 10 minutes. As for frostbite, in which the skin freezes, severe or untreated cases can lead to amputation, reports NJ.com, which has advice for what to do if you think you have either condition. Officials in the Midwest had warned residents of "almost instant frostbite" during this polar vortex, CNN reports. And to protect their lungs, they were even advised to avoid taking deep breaths or talking while outside, CBS reports. (Click for more on the sad toll of the polar vortex.)

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