9 Creepy Things That Happen In Your Body When You’re Cold
While it's obviously fine to dart to and fro as you go about your day — as long as you're dressed warmly — hanging outside in super cold weather isn't always a good idea. When the body gets cold, it can react in some pretty strange ways, including going numb, turning blue, and even growing bones (yes, bones) in an attempt to get warm. And some of these side effects are signs you need to warm up, ASAP.
"Use your best judgement as some people are more sensitive to cold than others," Sarah Lundstrom, AuD, a doctor of audiology, tells Bustle. "Frostbite can occur in as little as 30 minutes if temperatures (including wind chill) reach -19 [degrees Fahrenheit] or less," which applies to everyone. But even chilly days can have an impact, depending on how sensitive you are.
Some body parts are also more sensitive than others, such as the fingers, toes, nose, and ears. And react to the cold in different ways. "They are susceptible to things like frostbite," Dr. Lundstrom says. "If it is cold enough to need gloves, it is cold enough to need ear protection. Also, consider wearing swim plugs or a swim cap in cold water."
These protective measures will help you stay warm, and hopefully stave off some of the bizarre reactions listed below. Read on for all the weird ways your body can react when it's cold, according to experts.
1. Dizziness Can Occur
"It seems strange to think that cold weather could effect our ears, but there are actually a few ways in which it may," Dr. Lundstrom says. "Our [ear canal] and [ear drum] are made of thin, and sometimes sensitive skin. Because of this sensitivity, getting cold water or air in your ear canal or touching your ear drum can cause dizziness." It's all due to the temperature change, which is why you may feel light-headed when you're cold.
2. Your Lips Can Turn Blue
Even though it has to be pretty icy outside for this to happen, your lips can actually turn blue when you're cold, all thanks to the way the blood redirects in the body.
"As the body works to maintain your core body temperature at 98.6 [degrees], it shunts the blood to the internal organs and away from the skin and extremities," board-certified dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, tells Bustle. "Your lips may begin to look blue/purple due to temporary vasoconstriction and lack of oxygenated blood reaching them."
3. It Can Become Difficult To Talk
Apart from turning blue, your lips can also get numb, Dr. Shainhouse says, as your body moves all that oxygenated blood away from your skin and extremities and towards your core. It can even get to the point where your lips become difficult to move, making it tricky to speak or eat.
4. Your Hands Can Turn Red
In cold temperatures, some people can experience a condition called Raynaud's phenomenon, which causes their hands to turn different colors.
"This refers to severe vasoconstriction of the blood vessels in the fingers and toes due to cold exposure," Dr. Shainhouse says. "The digits go through a sequence of turning white and numb, then blue, and finally red, when the blood starts to rush back in as they re-warm."
If your hands or feet ever get this cold, "do not put [them] under hot water or heating pads," Dr. Shainhouse says, "because it will be both painful and can increase your risk for skin scalds, as you cannot sense the heat."
5. You Might Need To Pee
While the two may seem utterly unrelated, if you get cold enough, you may experience something called cold diuresis, which can make it feel as if you need to pee.
One possible reason why is that, since the blood is redirected to your core, it can trick your body into thinking there's extra fluid there. "To offset this perceived increase in fluids, the kidneys work by removing some via urination," Dr. Shainhouse says. And just like that, you'll need to pee.
6. Skin Can Freeze
In extreme cold conditions, the body can experience frostnip, or the freezing of the skin. "The skin becomes white-yellow in color (because of severe vasoconstriction), but it remains soft and pliable to the touch," Dr. Shainhouse says. "There is an associated burning/stinging sensation in the skin. It is not associated with permanent damage to the skin or underlying structures." But it isn't fun, either.
The condition usually resolves anywhere between a few hours and a few weeks. "Management includes rapid rewarming indoors, with body heat [and] blankets," Dr. Shainhouse says.
7. Muscles Can Freeze
Frostbite is the more extreme version of frostnip, as it involves the freezing of the skin, as well as the underlying tissues, such as the muscles and bone. "The skin becomes white and waxy and hardened," Dr. Shainouse says. "There is decreased sensation or complete numbness."
It's more likely to happen to exposed areas of the body, such as the fingers, toes, cheeks, chin, nose, and ears. "Frostbite can also be associated with instantaneous exposure to frozen metal, so don’t put your tongue on metal to see what happens," Dr. Shainhouse says.
8. Your Heart Works Harder
As blood redirects to keep your core warm, it can put extra strain on the heart. "This can lead to elevated blood pressure and put you at an increased risk for heart attack, particularly if you gave a pre-existing heart condition," Dr. Shainhouse says.
9. Bony Growths Can Form In The Ear
If you spend a lot of time in cold conditions, the body may start to protect itself by forming bony growths within the ear canal, Dr. Lundstrom says, in a condition called exostosis.
"Commonly referred to as Surfer's Ear, exostosis can effect anyone who has prolonged exposure to cold water or air (like a surfer)," Dr. Lundstrom says. "It's our body's way of protecting our ears from the cold. These growths can cause wax to be trapped in our ear, increase the chances of ear infections, be painful, block our ear drum, decrease our hearing, or cause tinnitus (ringing)."
If you're dressed properly, and don't spend a ton of time outside when it's freezing, then you're not likely to experience many of these symptoms. It is interesting, however, to think about how all the weird things the body can do when it's cold.