Cold weather has been costing vulnerable and marginalized lives in developing economies. A total of 19,126 people lost their lives due to cold waves between 1995 and 2020, with 1149 of those deaths occurring in 2015 alone, the year with the highest number of cold wave-related fatalities, according to the NCRB.
It should be noted that in most states, the number of fatalities from cold wave incidents peaked between 2005 and 2015 and then began to decline after that year. 5023 deaths, or 26% of all deaths in India between 1995 and 2020, were attributed to the cold wave, with the majority of those deaths occurring in Uttar Pradesh. The cold wave's toll on human life in Bihar and Punjab was second only to that in Uttar Pradesh, according to the report.
The cold snap is best known for making our hands and feet numb while giving us goosebumps. But the reality of cold chills isn't limited to this; they can range from minor ones like a runny nose and flu-like symptoms to catastrophic ones like frostbite and hypothermia. Every person should take caution before exposing themselves to extremely low temperatures, as they can also have an impact on their hearts. The number of fatal cardiac arrests seems to be at an all-time high as the nation struggles with a severe cold wave.
An extreme coldwave and biting cold have gripped Delhi and all of North India since the beginning of the year, prompting officials to issue a red warning for the entire country. Those who were unable to flee the cold wave reportedly died of heart attacks and brain strokes brought on by the extremely low temperatures.22 people reportedly passed away on January 5 in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, from heart attacks brought on by the extreme cold.
The total number of deaths in India attributable to cold snaps in 2020 was 776. And the numbers have only kept adding up. According to a report from the LPS Institute of Cardiology, 98 people in Kanpur passed away from heart attacks in the course of one week. At the SPS Heart Institute in the city, 14 patients died in less than 24 hours.
Heart Attacks Enhanced by Cold Waves
Dr. Manoj Kumar, a senior cardiologist from the Max Hospital in New Delhi, noted in an interview with ANI that winter chills could be fatal not only for the elderly but also for young people. According to him, heart attacks are more common in the winter and typically affect older people more than younger people. The times are always changing, though, and vulnerabilities are not just restricted to the old. It used to be common to hear about elderly people passing away from heart attacks, but nowadays it's more common to hear about children going through the same ordeal. Dr. Kumar asserts that there are two reasons why we are more vulnerable to heart attacks in the winter.
The cold causes the blood vessels to constrict. Vasoconstriction, which is the narrowing of blood vessels by tiny muscles in their walls, causes high blood pressure as a result. Additionally, for some people, this can cause hypertension. Longer exposure to cold temperatures can deplete the body's energy reserves, resulting in a drop in body temperature. Additionally, this can have an impact on a person's brain, "making the victim unable to think clearly or move well," or have difficulty speaking.
Our bodies' levels of fibrinogen increase by up to 23% during the winter. Heart attacks are caused by blood clots that develop in the coronary arteries. causing the platelet count to rise. In addition to a heart attack, this could cause blood clots.
Hypothermia Another Factor
Our hearts constantly work hard to fight the cold chills and keep our bodies at a healthy temperature. The body, however, also loses heat quickly. If the body temperature drops to less than 95 degrees due to hypothermia, cardiac arrest may happen. According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures can lead to hypothermia because the body starts to lose heat more quickly than it is producing.
Less Overpowering Consequences
With a 0.5-degree error, the normal body temperature is 36.8 degrees Celsius. When the temperature outside changes, the human body adapts by either warming up—shivering, chattering teeth, and goosebumps on the skin—or cooling down—perspiration. This process is termed homeostasis.
Human bodies are remarkably built to withstand temperature changes, yet they stand powerless against biology and nature, limiting their capacity to heat or cool themselves. According to the CDC, there can be some worrying effects when the defense mechanisms start to deteriorate.
When a person's body is exposed to cold conditions for an extended period, they may develop a variety of health problems, such as bone, joint, and muscle cough and cold, respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis, and skin problems. Frostbite can leave the body permanently damaged, and severe cases may necessitate amputation (the removal of the injured body part).
Combating Cold Snaps
Precaution is better than cure. We need to deal with the cold snaps before disaster strikes. Just by taking small measures as instructed by the India Meteorological Department, we can fight against the cold wave. It's better to treat at a small level than at a higher level. So let's follow their instructions:
What To Remember?
Make sure you have ample layers of clothing for the winter. Provide people in need with used winter clothing.
Maintain a stock of supplies for unexpected situations.
During the cold wave outside, spend as much time indoors as you can to avoid being exposed to the chilly wind.
Remain dry. Change into dry clothing as soon as you can to prevent losing body heat.
Due to their wool construction, mittens will keep you warmer and better insulate you from the cold than gloves.
Regularly consume warm liquids like herbal tea, coffee, or warm water to stay warm.
Attend to the medical or personal needs of the young and the old to care for them.
Keep warm water on hand for daily tasks because, in some places, the water in the pipes might be chilly or even frozen.
Recognize the warning signs of frostbite, such as numbness and white or pale fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose.
Any areas with frostbite should be treated with warm water—not hot water.
What To Avoid?
Abstain from alcohol. It brings down your body's temperature.
Refrain from massaging the frostbite-affected area. This might lead to more damage.
Keep an eye out for shivering. It's a crucial first sign that the body is losing heat and a signal to go back inside as soon as you can.