Winter is coming, and along with it, the dangers of extremely cold temperatures. When a person is left out in the cold, it could lead to a significant drop in a person’s body temperature.
Once dangerously low, it begins to affect organs, and the nervous system, and even introduce heart problems. Eventually, it will lead to death.
Being out in the cold is uncomfortable. However, in extreme temperatures, an odd phenomenon takes place when people are on the brink of death due to the cold.
The myth has always been that dying from the cold is a serene experience. Learning from these stories and opinions, it is best to be aware and wary of the peaceful painless death that hypothermia brings.
Before we get into it, let’s first talk about a person’s body temperature as well as what happens to people when exposed to very cold temperatures for far too long.
Retaining Temperature Ranges
A person’s normal body temperature ranges from 36.4°C to 37.2°C. For the most part, people adhere to this range. Still, this range is not set in stone though, and some people may have different body temperature ranges.
The body keeps to this temperature range as a result of all the functions happening inside the body. Our body and its various organs are constantly at work. When functioning normally, body temperatures are also normal.
That is why when our temperatures are higher or lower than normal, it could indicate that something is wrong.
If a person’s temperature is too high, it is likely a fever. If it is too low, it is drifting into the hypothermic territory.
The temperature in people’s bodies is actually controlled by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This part acts like a regulator of sorts, controlling the heat distribution through various methods to keep equilibrium.
If it is too hot, the hypothalamus dilates blood vessels so that it can release heat and increase our body temperature.
On the other hand, if it is too cold, the hypothalamus narrows the blood vessels to keep a body’s core temperature in working conditions. This core temperature helps the organs to continue operating so that people can survive.
Unfortunately, this is often done at the expense of extremities like toes and fingers.
What Happens in the Extreme Cold?
As stated previously, when exposed to extremely cold temperatures, people begin to experience hypothermia. It is when the body’s temperature is dropping off faster than the amount of heat produced. This happens when body temperatures reach a level of 35°C and lower.
This condition brings with it a laundry list of symptoms. It is particularly dangerous though because people may not be aware that it is already happening to them.
Depending on how serious it is, this condition goes from mild to moderate, and then severe. If left unchecked, it could lead to death.
A Blissful Death: Where Did This Come From?
One popular opinion that many people adhere to is that hypothermic death is a peaceful one. Some people say it is like going to sleep. This is an interesting thought as most people are fearful of death. So, where did this come from?
Fortunately, we don’t have to look far for stories that share these consequences. One climber was found dead on the 11,000 feet summit of a mountain. He had succumbed to the extreme cold, with examiners stating that it is a blissful experience.
Other people from forum boards also claim the same thing. These were either from first-hand experience or overheard by medical professionals.
What about the medical community? How do they weigh in on the issue?
The Descent to Hypothermic Death
We can take a look at the aforementioned climber’s account to see what happens when exposed to extreme cold for a long time. A professional from the medical community was able to analyse what took place moments prior to his death.
The climber was Kelly James and this was his experience.
Hypothermic conditions start at the mildest stages. This is when the person’s body temperature goes below 35°C to 32°C. The examiner surmised that James would have been shivering and losing coordination.
Apart from the physical manifestations of the cold, the unlucky climber would have also experienced changes to their mental state. This shows up as changes to their personality which affects how they act.
After that, the doctor stated that James’ thinking would have felt slow. At the same time, his memory would have also started to go. This is because bouts of amnesia are one common symptom at this stage.
The compromised thinking would have led the climber to increasingly irrational actions. One person who had also experienced this level of cold said that at this level, people will likely try to discard warm clothing and stop eating, even though it may save them.
When people drop articles of clothing or just become uninterested in ensuring their survival equipment is complete and accounted for, it is a sure sign that they are heading towards a hypothermic death.
Once it heads into a severe state, the body stops shivering. Many organs stop working and it fools the brain into thinking that it is alright.
People have shared experiences that while they feel discomfort, they are also starting to feel an eerie calm or contentment. It is this calm that is quite dangerous as it is the gateway to sleep.
Once a victim is unconscious, they fall into a coma. The body’s metabolic processes start to shut down.
Then, as the heart rate continues to drop, death eventually comes.
How Long Does it Usually Take?
The progression towards death is largely variable and contingent on a number of things. For instance, hypothermic conditions are more severe in water. This means that people can die in just under an hour.
Out of the water, it can last from hours to days and even weeks.
A Peaceful Passing
From these various experiences, it seems that this feeling of calm and bliss is inherent to the various symptoms a person goes through with hypothermia.
For starters, it is a trick that the various organs play on the brain. It makes the person feel like things are better than they really are.
Apart from that, amidst the dread and suffering that the constant cold brings, the fatalist acceptance starts to feel like a comfort.
When eventually sleep comes, as many accounts state, it is peaceful and painless. At the extreme point of severity, death comes as easy as sleep.
According to several stories and opinions from medical experts, extreme hypothermic levels may indeed bring out symptoms that make death akin to merciful sleep. While the thought may be comforting to some, we hope that what we have shared will help people experiencing hypothermia.
The lesson here is that when people feel the comfortable calm of sleep, they should fight it as it will eventually lead to death.
Knowing the right first aid practices will be helpful when going against the extreme cold and will also equip you with the right skills such as CPR which will largely help people in need.
Learn more about life-saving skills and the various dangerous conditions with CPR First Aid’s Liverpool course.