More people get ill in winter and there is a direct link between cold weather and the higher death rate, especially amongst older people and other at-risk groups. Winter needn't be dangerous if you take the right steps and we look out for the signs that you may need help.
Do people actually die of the cold?
The major problem is caused by a prolonged exposure to the cold, not from effects of very low temperatures experienced during cold snaps.Very few deaths are caused by true hypothermia, where the core body temperature drops significantly.Most deaths are due to strokes and heart attacks where blood becomes more liable to clot in people who are exposed to the cold.When exposed to cold, the body contracts down the blood vessels in the skin to stop blood flowing to the skin and to prevent heat loss. This means more of the blood circulates to central parts of the body, which overloads the heart and lungs with blood. The body gets rid of fluid to reduce this load by excreting salt and water, but the net result is the blood becomes more concentrated and liable to clot.
Hypothermia is a lowered deep-core body temperature of 35C/95F or below. It is the lowered temperature of the organs inside the body which is important - an ordinary thermometer cannot measure this. You may not actually feel cold but if you sit in a cold room and do little or nothing to keep warm then you may run the risk of becoming hypothermic or becoming ill with bronchitis or pneumonia. Both are cold-related illnesses.
Temperature effects on comfort and health
24C - top range of comfort 21C - recommended living room temperature 18C - recommended bedroom temperature 16C - resistance to respiratory diseases weakened 12C - more than two hours at this temperature raises blood pressure and increases heart attack and stroke risk 5C - Significant risk of hypothermia
Tips on staying warm & safe
Wrap up warm. Keep active. Keep bedrooms at 18C. Keep living rooms at 21C. If medication is taken for a health condition, make sure their is enough and that it is taken.
Watch out for the danger signs
Drowsiness. Very cold skin on parts of the body normally covered, for example the stomach or armpits. Slurred speech. Absence of complaint about feeling cold, even in a bitterly cold room.
If you are in doubt:
Move the person into warmer surroundings if possible. Wrap the person in a light layer of blankets or a duvet to avoid further loss of body heat, give them warm, nourishing drinks. Call the doctor or nurse. Do not subject the person to any sudden extreme change of temperature - so do not put them next to a fire or give them hot water bottles or heavy layers of clothes or blankets. Do not give them alcohol, as it will stimulate further heat loss through the skin.
Energy advice centres
These centres give free independent advice on energy saving measures at home.