Your Body’s Response to the Cold

Long months of cold weather can take its toll on the human body. We are not able to withstand extreme cold without proper covering and shelter. Cold temperatures can also bring a certain amount of discomfort, as the human body prefers to remain at 98.6 degrees. Here’s what happens when the temperatures drop. Pay attention to the signals to stay safe when the chill sets in.


Your body’s very first reaction to feeling cold is a response aimed at warming you up. You can easily be identified as cold as you start to shake. This shivering is meant to get your body moving in an effort to create some body heat. This is an action that happens without effort. Your body takes over and tries to protect itself. Your brain alerts your body as soon as it falls below normal body temperature to get moving. The colder you are, the more rapidly shaking occurs to increase warmth. You usually do not feel much warmer from this, however. The change in temperature may be very subtle.


Goosebumps are a clear sign of a chilly temperature. This interesting reaction, however, has a clear historical background. Goosebumps are intended to make your hairs stand up straight. This may not seem significant now that humans have minimal hair, yet, it used to accomplish something very important. Past humans with thick hair benefited from this as air would become locked between the airs and form a protective barrier from the cold. This feature doesn’t help much anymore. It does, however, alert you to cover up with a jacket or blanket.

Your Brain

Cold weather is associated with shorter days. The sun sets earlier, leaving more hours of dark than light. This phenomenon can be especially hard on individuals with anxiety or depression. Serotonin production is limited during the dark hours.  This neurotransmitter is a key player in mood regulation. Melatonin is, however, increased in the brain. This happens earlier in the day due to the natural lack of light this time of year. The brain is then signaled to settle down for sleep. This can make long work days in the winter especially difficult.

Rerouting of Blood 

Hands and feet start to go numb rather quickly when you head out of the house without gloves or proper footwear. This is your body’s way of protecting vital organs. Blood circulation is pulled from the extremities and an increased supply is sent to the core of your body. This is meant to keep you alive in extreme situations, even if you permanently lose a body part. This is why coats winter wear is often more insulated on the core part of the garment. If you keep your core at the proper temperature, your body does not respond by limiting circulation. Wear sufficient layers in the winter, including gloves, to avoid numbness.

Increased Possibility of Illness

Despite what your grandmother told you, you do not get sick from exposure to cold temperatures. It takes a confirmed bacteria or virus to infect your body with a sickness. Viruses, however, seem to enjoy the cold. Your body may have difficulty recognizing the invasion of pathogens if your body temperature has dropped. This delays your immune response, allowing the illness to take hold. Make every attempt to stay warm during seasons of mass illness.

Popular winter activities, such as holiday gatherings, also initiate the spread of winter viruses. People tend to conglomerate indoors in close quarters during the winter months. More togetherness, in an effort to stay out of the weather, may contribute to higher prevalence of sickness. Bundle up and get out of common gathering areas.


Frostbite is a semi-serious skin condition caused by freezing temperatures. Unprotected skin is vulnerable to this condition. The skin and the underlying tissues freeze and become damaged. All extremities are susceptible to frostbite. Fingers, toes, and ears are common areas that become injured. The entirety of the face is at risk due to constant exposure. High wind conditions make frostbite more likely. Wind chill temperatures are often lower than base temperatures.

It is necessary to warm affected skin as soon as possible for proper healing. When frostbit occurs you may feel a pain or stinging before the area goes numb. The extreme cold feeling is accompanied by redness, eventual numbing. Pale and hard skin follows. Treatment must happen promptly to avoid nerve damage or infection. Keep extremities covered to avoid this ailment.


Hypothermia is a dangerous condition that affects the entire body, unlike the localized complications from frostbite. In extreme conditions the body may lose heat at a rate exceeding heat producing abilities. This allows the body temperature to continue to drop, reaching an unsafe low. Most people associate this with an extreme temperature change. Hypothermia, however, can occur when the body drops a mere 3.6 degrees. Symptoms begin as your temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cold air temperatures and water are common causes of this condition. Victims often show a weak pulse, slurred speech, and confusion. Further symptoms include slurred speech, slow breathing, and lack of coordination. Loss of consciousness is also possible. Medical professionals must return the body to the proper temperature. Shivering is often the first sign of hypothermia. Take notice of your body’s warning. Wear proper clothing and avoid staying outside too long in cold climates.

Cold temperatures easily alter the way the human body functions. Dangerous symptoms can develop quickly as body temperature begins to drop. It is important to dress properly when going out in the winter weather. Your body reacts in a protective way by trying to warm itself up. Shivering and goosebumps are immediate physical reactions. Your brain chemistry can be affected negatively by longer incidences of darkness. Less daylight hours combined with constant cloud cover increase melatonin and decrease serotonin production. Increased prevalence of illness, frostbite, and hypothermia are all dangers to look out for in cold temperatures. Listen to your body when you notice warning signs of temperature changes.

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