Au Tour du Mont-Blanc Project

Cold-related pathologies

Problems and sicknesses caused by temperature



to save body heat for the most critical internal organs for self-preservation, our body sacrifices the peripheral zones that require greater heat expenditure (calories) to keep warm: toes, fingers, tip of the nose and ears.

Cold triggers a constriction of capillary vessels and an overall reduction in the amount of blood being channeled to the tissues, which get noticeably colder. Warning: wearing tight socks or two pairs of socks is a frequent contributing factor for frostbitten feet. When squeezed too tightly, the toes cannot move or be moved (to generate the "pumping" action of muscular contractions), which slows down circulation and accelerates the temperature drop.

This results in damage to the capillaries, which release small amounts of plasma that keep oxygen from reaching the tissues. In addition, the water inside each tissue cell transforms into tiny needles of ice that cause further damage to the tissues.

The main symptoms are:

  • pain and tingling at first, followed by reduced tactile sensitivity (and less pain) with loss of color and severe temperature drop (Grade I frostbite);
  • appearance of violet-red blisters that pop easily and leave surface-level sores (Grade II frostbite).

What to do:

  • Call for help;
  • Do not rub or massage the area (due to the risk of further tissue damage);
  • Do not apply salves or powders, which are usually ineffective and often detrimental;
  • Do not make the victim walk if the frostbite is in the lower limbs - the refreezing of body parts that have been revascularized can cause severe damage, and movement cannot reactivate circulation once it has stopped.
  • Remove any clothing that is humid or that constricts the body part in question;
  • Warm up the frozen body part gradually (never rapidly!) with heat packs or by submerging in water at a temperature of 38° to 42°;
  • Cover the sores and blisters with sterile gauze, wrapping them without pulling tight.

Overexposure (hypothermia):

a general lowering of body temperature, as opposed to frostbite in a specific body part. In this case, the coldness causes a constriction in the blood vessels of all organs, damaging them and compromising their functionality. A prolonged state of hypothermia often results in death.

In addition to wind and humidity, which can also cause frostbite, overexposure is also promoted by:

  • Physical tiredness;
  • Insufficient food intake;
  • Abuse of alcoholic beverages.

The main symptoms are:

  • Sensation of extreme physical tiredness;
  • Mental lethargy (irresistible sleepiness) and confusion;
  • Extremely low body temperature;
  • Intense paleness;
  • Very slow breathing;
  • Slow heartbeat (down to 30-40 beats per minute).

Warning:  never administer alcoholic beverages or massage the victim

What to do:

  • Call for help;
  • Insulate the victim from the ground;
  • Warm their body up slowly and gradually starting with the chest, combining external warmth with internal heating by means of warm drinks (only if the victim is conscious).