Temperatures in and around Chicago will be dangerously cold and record breaking this week – even colder than temps in Antarctica. Dr. Ken Polin, pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Primary Care – Town & Country Pediatrics, answers questions about the health risks associated with the frigid forecast.
Can your eyeballs really freeze in these below zero temps?
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.
Can breathing in the extremely cold air cause damage to your lungs?
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).
Should you absolutely stay inside during the extreme temperatures?
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 vs Frostbite
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.
Signs of frostbite and hypothermia:
- Red, white or bluish-white skin
More subtle signs such as:
- Body temperature below 95*F
- Altered level of consciousness
- Slurred speech
- Low energy or drowsiness
- Bright red, cold skin (in infants)
- Get the child out of the cold and out of wet clothing
- Gentle warming with warm water (not hot) that’s a tad
higher than body temperature
- This will improve circulation and stop progression of frostbite
- This may hurt initially but will get better as they start warming
- If the skin starts to blister this is a sign of severe frostbite and one should seek out specific medical attention
How to prevent frostbite:
- Make sure your child is wearing an appropriate amount of layers and staying dry
- Regularly check on kids to see if their hands are turning pale or whitish (this is a sign of frostbite)
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.
How to prevent hypothermia:
- Make sure your infant and child is wearing an appropriate amount of layers and staying dry
- Bring children indoors frequently for warmth and immediately if you notice them begin to shiver