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Chilled Out

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Do you shiver even when it’s hot outside, you don’t have a fever and you’ve draped a blanket around yourself? Dev Goswami & Anindra Siqueira tell you what it might be and when you need to start taking it seriously

For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to feel cold all the time, the idea may seem anything but serious. You may consider it a gift from the heavens, acting as the perfect antidote to Mumbai’s mostly-hot-never-cold weather, or as a comical situation where someone always seems like they’ve stepped out of a freezer. But, ask someone who feels chilly in the middle of the summer or even when they’re snuggled under layers of blanket, and you will realise what sort of discomfort this condition can cause. This is usually not a serious situation, but there are several factors, ranging from medical conditions to vitamin deficiencies, which can lead to you feeling as though you are freezing all the time.

Being underweight means there isn’t a sufficient amount of fat covering your body, making you prone to chills. Now, we realise that this sounds like an explanation that cave dwellers thought of when they didn’t have access to modern medical expertise. But, trust us, this is as rooted medical science as it can be. The fat on your body insulates you from the cold, and so, if you know that your BMI is lower than 18.5 or you’re extremely thin, try putting on some weight first to see if that solves this problem. 

Considering that one of the symptoms of anaemia is feeling cold, this one is a no-brainer. The condition is caused by an iron deficiency, which reduces your red blood cell count. Red blood cells carry heat and other nutrients to your cells and a lack of these cells will make you susceptible to feeling cold. Look for other symptoms of anaemia such as fatigue and pale skin and visit a doctor, if you suspect that you suffer from the condition.

This, along with anaemia, is the reason why cold intolerance should not be taken lightly. Feeling cold all the time is a telltale sign of a malfunctioning thyroid gland. This gland is located around your neck and regulates your metabolism and therefore, plays a role in determining how well your cells use energy. If you also notice signs such as thinning hair, dry skin, constipation and sudden weight gain, visit a doctor to get tested.

Circulation problems
If the extremities of your body (i.e. your fingertips and toes) are the only parts of your body that feel cold, it could be because of insufficient blood circulation to these areas. The reasons could range from your heart’s inability to pump blood effectively to narrow blood vessels. Smoking is one of the biggest dangers to your arteries and so, if you’re a smoker, you know what’s causing the problem! If the situation persists or occurs at an alarming rate, visit a doctor — cardiovascular problems are not something that you should take lightly.

Sleepless nights
This is a surprising reason why you feel cold and science hasn’t been able to prove why this happens yet. But, it is a
well-documented fact that a lack of sleep, which throws your nervous system out of gear, can make you feel cold. Some theories suggest that not getting enough rest affects how efficiently your hypothalamus (a gland that regulates your body temperature) functions, which could be why you’re feeling chilly.

The wrong chromosome
Okay, before you call us sexist, we aren’t saying that being a woman makes you weaker. However, certain conditions do affect women more than they affect men and vice versa. And, feeling cold is a situation that women are more likely to suffer from than men. The reason is that women are biologically programmed to maintain blood flow to vital organs such as the heart and brain. Sometimes, this could reduce the blood flow to your hands and legs, making you feel cold. 

This may seem counter-intuitive. After all, we drink water to cool down. Water traps heat and releases it in small doses, regulating body temperature. Also, it boosts your metabolism, which is another crucial bodily system that keeps you warm. So, lack of water will make you feel cold.

In its extreme, unmanaged form, diabetes can lead to a condition called peripheral nephropathy, which stresses the nerves that are located around your hands and feet. This makes your nerves numb, which makes you feel cold. Emphasising on feel is important here, because your body temperature is probably fine, but the wrong signal that is being sent to your brain is causing the problem. It’s important to remember that peripheral nephropathy sneaks up on you. So, if you’re diabetic and begin to feel cold, see a doctor immediately.

Dietary problems
A list that tells you why certain things happen is incomplete without a mention of the type of food that you eat. A lack of vitamins such as vitamin B12 or minerals such as iron affect the production of red blood cells in your body, and as we explained earlier, this can make you feel cold. Sluggish metabolism means ineffective blood flow, which can cause you to freeze as well.

Expert Speak
Dr. Behram Pardiwala, internal medicines consultant at Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai Central, tells us that the medical reason for cold chills and shivering even when it’s hot (and you may be sweating!) is a thyroid condition. He adds that feeling cold all the time can also be attributed to malnourishment. He adds that there aren’t any standout signs that you can keep an eye out for if you’re constantly feeling cold, but you should visit your doctor and let them decide how serious this condition is.

Is the AC harmful?
Most Indians aren’t accustomed to low temperatures — our bodies are used to the warm climate. So, when we sit in an air-conditioned office for long hours with the temperature set at 18° or even 22°C, it puts a strain on our body as our core temperature is usually around 37°C. A 15° difference is quite a bit, especially when we’re just sitting and not participating in any metabolic activity. Our bodies have to work hard against the external cold to maintain optimum temperature in order to function normally.

That argument aside, there are other ways in which  your AC can harm you. One is that ACs suck out moisture (newer ones are equipped to deal with this, however), which can make your skin become dry and chapped. Most of us step into the AC from the outdoor heat. The sudden change in temperature and humidity that we are exposed to can burden the respiratory system. Due to the air circulation, infectious respiratory diseases can spread. Dr. Behram says, “When it’s a centralised AC, you should focus on the hygiene around you, as it could cause respiratory diseases.” Finally, air conditioning can affect those who wear contact lenses and make eye conditions such as conjunctivitis and blepharitis — an inflammation of the eyelid — worse.

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