The Dangers of Freezing Temperatures

Dangers of Freezing TemperaturesWinter is finally here. The air grows colder and colder. Frost decorates the dying grass and trees; maybe you’re evening hearing rumors of snow. Days are chilly, and nights are freezing… So, what does this mean for you? What does this mean for the greater community?

Tennessee knows how cruel the cold can be, especially to its homeless community. That’s why Nashville reactivated its extreme cold weather shelter near the end of November this year. The shelter was open from 7pm to 7am for those who have nowhere to sleep at night safe for the unrelenting, cold streets. We’re sure that Nashville’s cold weather shelter will be up and running quite a bit this year, but everyone is at risk of cold-related injuries. It’s important to be prepared, and to check in on loved ones often.

Cold weather and you: hypothermia and frostbite

The risks people face during winter are treacherous. The first major cold weather risk you should know about is hypothermia. We’ve all heard of it, or seen it in movies, but let’s delve into what it really is and what it can do to the human body.

First, the definition:

Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia (hi-poe-THUR-me-uh) occurs as your body temperature falls below 95 F (35 C). When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs can’t work normally. Left untreated, hypothermia can lead to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and eventually to death.

We can see it’s nothing to mess with, as the effects of hypothermia are dangerous, even fatal. Now, for most of us, hypothermia probably isn’t a worrying danger on a day to day basis. We have warm cars, warm workspaces, and warm homes to return to at the end of the day when the sun sets and it truly becomes cold; but what about those who don’t have such luxuries? “NCH’s [the National Coalition for the Homeless] Winter Services report found that 700 people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness are killed from hypothermia annually in the United States.” That’s far too many preventable deaths.

And they are not the only people at risk. If we learned anything from the problems Texas faced in early 2021, it’s that cold weather can wreak havoc on houses and cars, and leave us vulnerable.

Along with hypothermia, and often accompanying it, is frostbite:

Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. In the earliest stage of frostbite, known as frostnip, there is no permanent damage to skin. Symptoms include cold skin and a prickling feeling, followed by numbness, and inflamed or discolored skin. As frostbite worsens, skin may become hard or waxy looking.… frostbite requires medical attention because it can permanently damage skin, muscle, bone and other tissue.

Now, while frostbite and hypothermia often go hand in hand, one can suffer from frostbite without suffering from hypothermia. If the temperature drops low enough, in about half an hour the freezing temperatures can affect skin that’s not protected against the cold, such as your fingers, toes, nose, and ears. So not only is it a danger to those who are outside for long periods of time, but also to those who might just be caroling, building a snowman, or holiday shopping.

Cold weather can exacerbate health existing conditions like asthma

Unless you suffer from asthma, you may not realize how dangerous the cold is to those with the condition. Cold weather is often a trigger for asthma. “When someone with asthma breathes in cold, dry air, it can make the muscles inside start to spasm while also trying to keep airways open. This further irritates the lining of the airways and causes coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.”

If you want to keep yourself or loved ones safe and free of asthma attacks during the winter, make sure to bundle up when going outside. Have a scarf wrapped around yourself to keep the air you’re breathing warm and humid. Move your morning run inside onto a treadmill, and obviously always keep your inhaler on you.

Can cold weather affect a pregnancy?

Lastly, let’s talk about pregnancy and cold weather. Frankly, the cold weather is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the risks that come with pregnancy, but the National Institutes of Health conducted a study that brought up that very issue. They “found that women who experienced extreme cold for the first seven weeks of their pregnancies had a 20 percent higher risk for delivering before 34 weeks of pregnancy, a nine percent increased risk for delivering from 34-36 weeks, and a three percent increased risk for delivering in weeks 37 and 38.” The risk of premature delivery on top of everything else that can happen due to extreme cold is a reason to take these winter months seriously.

Cold weather and your vehicle

Finally, now that we’ve gone over what happens to the human body when exposed to extreme cold temperatures, let’s talk about what happens on the road and to your car in freezing temperatures. According to Carsurance:

  • 17% of all vehicle crashes happen in winter conditions.
  • 1,836 people die annually due to snowy and icy pavement.
  • There are 156,164 crashes annually due to icy roads.
  • More than 1,300 people are killed in car crashes on snowy or icy roads every year.
  • Over 116,800 people get injured in car accidents on snowy or icy roads every year.
  • Every year, about 76,000 people are injured in traffic accidents during snowfall.
  • About 70% of accidental fatalities that occur during winter happen in cars.
  • 800 Americans die in car crashes annually while driving in winter weather conditions.

Those are some pretty intimidating statistics and ones that should cause us to drive carefully when we’re out on those icy roads. So, make sure you have snow tires on, blankets and a shovel in the trunk, and stay off of your phone when driving. If you do get hurt in a wreck related to winter weather, call our Nashville car accident attorneys as soon as you can, so we can get started on your claim.

Building snowmen, having snowball fights, and going out to do some shopping are all fun ways to spend our time when the days get darker and the nights colder. There’s no reason to stop our fun, but we should always be prepared and cautious of the dangers of freezing temperatures when we’re out in them. Not only should we care for ourselves, but we should also spare a thought for those who live out on the streets, where a warm place is hard to come by. If you do happen to find yourself injured because of a cold weather related car accident, make sure to contact us at 615-425-2500 or by filling out the contact form, and schedule an appointment at one of our offices in Nashville, Hendersonville, and Clarksville.