JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - With freezing temperatures in full swing across Region 8, some may wonder just how dangerous can those temperatures be for the body.
Dr. Mickey Deel is a doctor of osteopathic medicine and works in the emergency room at St. Bernards.
Dr. Deel said hypothermia is a real condition people need to take seriously.
"Hypothermia is a condition that happens when the body's temperature gets below what it can compensate," Dr. Deel said. "We are able to maintain our body temperature in a very strict, very narrow window. Unfortunately, when it gets really, really cold like we're having now, the body doesn't have the ability to maintain and that core temperature starts to drop. And that is by definition, hypothermia."
Dr. Deel said there are a number of signs to be aware of to alert someone if you or someone else is in trouble.
"Once hypothermia happens, there are some characteristic signs and symptoms that if not recognized early it can become a serious life-threatening condition," Dr. Deel said. "Those signs and symptoms are referred to as 'umbles'. The stumbles, grumbles, mumbles, and fumbles. Your balance gets off and you're not able to walk as well as you would and will start stumbling. You're going to start mumbling because you don't think as clearly because the blood flow to the brain gets less as the body temperature drops and they're not as easy to understand. They can't perform the fine motor tasks that they used to and they don't think as clearly."
Dr. Deel said to pay attention to what your body is telling you.
"If you're to the point that you're shivering, and you're cold, then you're beyond your body's ability to compensate. If this happens you need to do something about it," Dr. Deel said. "You need to come into a warm environment. Keep in mind certain medications can also mask the symptoms of hypothermia. For instance, if you drink alcohol you'll feel warm because it causes the blood vessels to dilate. That is actually going to make matters much, much worse because it allows you to lose heat at a much rapid rate. As well as the fact that you won't feel cold and as we get cold our brain works much less efficient. Combine that with alcohol and it can become a life-threatening mistake. If it's wet outside it's going to enhance the effect of the cold. If there's a significant wind it will enhance the effect of the cold. Smoking also increases the effects."
The elderly, people with chronic illnesses and babies should be watched carefully.
"The most important thing is to not just tough it out," Dr. Deel said. "If you start feeling cold, if your fingers start going numb that's when you need to come in and get warm. For every one degree drop in body temperature, the blood flow to the brain drops 67%. You may not think as clearly and you may get into a situation just because of the inability to think it through and make the right decisions."
For more information about St. Bernards, log onto their website.