I can stand cold much better than heat. ‘ It can be, of course. But, in any case, it is nothing more than a sensation. In summer when the thermometer reaches 40 degrees we are upset, yes, but the body ‘manages’. ‘Heat is regulated by sweat. Except for a heat stroke that can cause us to suffer from syncope, high temperatures do not cause specific conditions in the body. But the cold does. Pedro Rodríguez, a member of the Spanish Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (AEDV), reviews the bouquet of consequences that can be exposed to temperatures as low as those we have had for days in our country due to the storm ‘Filomena’. Some conditions are exceptional, and the result of being out in the open for many hours with the thermometer below zero; others manifest in a matter of minutes if we are not warmly dressed.
Feet, hands, nose … frozen
“The body lets these areas ‘die’ because they are not so important for survival”
The English term is ‘frostbite’ and it is very illustrative: it comes to mean ‘ice bite’. Doctors refer to the loss of a piece of finger (of the hand or of the foot), of the nose and even of the ear due to the cold. “When the temperature drops a lot, the parts of the body that get cold before are those that are farthest from the heart. It occurs because the body redistributes blood and prioritizes the trunk, the part where the organs are located, so that they function properly. At those times, little blood reaches the feet, hands, nose and ears and they can become frozen. In the most serious cases, even a part of that limb or area is lost. “It is as if the body lets a part of the nose or a finger die, for example, because it knows that it is not so important for survival.” It is not strange that this happens to mountaineers and people who live on the streets.
In any case, before reaching that extreme, the body sends signals: «The skin in the area close to frostbite begins to become very cold and white, it loses its usual coloration; and it is also ‘anesthetized’, as if it had no sensitivity. The body’s automatic mechanism for trying to generate some heat is to move the muscles. “Shivering is involuntary and occurs because the brain’s temperature control center causes muscles to contract to ‘get’ warm.” A kind of natural defense mechanism.
“They come out due to genetic predisposition … and now also because of the coronavirus”
Having chilblains or not is not a matter of being cold or not. “It only happens to some people with a genetic predisposition,” he explains to the dermatologist. This condition manifests itself as small bruises on the hands or feet. “Itchy and sore bruises” a consequence of blood vessel inflammation. People who suffer from them suffer from it every winter, however cautious they may be. “All it takes is a few minutes with your hands in the air and even picking up a glass of ice.” Until now, chilblains were a ‘disease’ associated with cold but the specialist has seen them this summer, as a result of the Covid. ‘The vascular inflammation caused by the coronavirus causes some people to develop chilblains. Hence, it is difficult for someone who has chilblains this winter for the first time in their life to discern whether they are caused by the virus or by the cold. In the second case, they are treated “with corticosteroid cream.”
“The cold causes dryness to all but worse in the case of atopic dermatitis”
In this case, it is not so much that the condition appears, but that it worsens. “Both the freezing cold in the street and the heat from the heating at home are hostile environments for people with atopic dermatitis”, explains Pedro Rodríguez. The cold causes everyone, he says, dryness, but people with this dermatitis problem can also cause eczema on the skin.
“The contrast between hot and cold causes outbreaks of redness on the face”
“Rosacea has four forms and one of them is called couperose.” The dermatologist refers to that redness on the face that intensifies with low temperature. “With the cold the blood vessels close, and they open with the heat” and it is that contrast of temperatures that we have these days, when you leave a warm place to the cold outside that causes these “outbreaks of redness” on the face .
“It happens when our body temperature drops dangerously”
It is the most dangerous condition caused by cold and happens to people without heart problems, warns the dermatologist. «It happens when the body temperature of the trunk drops, which is where we have the viscera. The cut-off point would be around 34.5 degrees approximately ”, a considerable ‘drop’ considering that our body thermometer is around 36 degrees. For this to happen we must be exposed to the cold for many hours and stay still: “Someone who has consumed alcohol and falls asleep lying on the street or who has gotten lost in the mountains and has to spend the night in the open.”
The ‘cabrillas’ or the danger of falling asleep with the electric blanket
In some parts of Spain they are popularly called ‘cabrillas’. For those who do not know them by that name, they are burns in the most superficial blood vessels that take the form of “net-shaped hematomas.” They are caused, normally, “by the heat of the braziers or by the contact of electric blankets and at the moment you don’t realize it,” explains dermatologist Pedro Rodríguez.