COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Proper winter clothing isn't always enough to protect people from hypothermia.
As bitterly cold temperatures stayed in Mid-Missouri on Monday, ABC 17 News spoke with doctors about the potential health impacts caused by prolonged exposure to the elements.
Cameron LanCarte, an assistant physician at Columbia Urgent Care, said when someone is in the cold for an extended period of time, the body's immune system is affected.
"It's conserving all of its energy in order to protect the internal organs," LanCarte said. "With that, it's pulling all the blood to make sure your heart, liver, lungs are all functioning appropriately."
He said fingers, toes and ears are secondary concerns for the body. LanCarte said it's important to make sure those parts are covered to avoid frostbite.
LanCarte said it is normal to feel pain in your fingers and toes during the cold temperatures, but once it starts to feel numb and the color turns white, he said you should seek medical attention.
He said hypothermia, when your core body temperature falls below normal, can affect everyone. The elderly, children and people with pre-existing health conditions are at a higher risk.
"Even if you are wearing the appropriate clothing, you can still suffer from hypothermia, it's all about how cold it gets," LanCarte said.
The signs of hypothermia are loss of muscle control, an altered mental status and feeling weak.
If you do have to be outside for an extended period of time, LanCarte recommends taking breaks where you can warm up. He said when you do get inside, take off any wet clothing, and let your body slowly warm up.
"Fires and furnaces and getting really close to a hot element is not very wise," LanCarte said. "A rapid change is not a good thing for the body. The body really responds better to gradual changes."