Cover Story: Cold weather and your health

By Jeff Atkinson - bio - l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The first death from these freezing temperatures reported in the Carolinas.  The body of a man was found along Interstate 85 in Cherokee County, South Carolina.

Right now, officials believe the man was homeless, and died after being exposed to the cold for three or four days.

This weather should have all of us thinking twice about how we dress in the cold weather.

Frostbite can creep up on you.  Hypothermia can have serious health complications.  But being dressed for the weather - can make a huge difference.

In fact, some ski slopes won't even let you get on without hats and gloves while there's a frost bite warning going on.

From these pictures.. in the North Carolina mountains.. it doesn't just look cold.

You can hear it as well.  And everyone's talking about it.

"It's cold all right.."

The region's gripped in a deep freeze.. from the mountains to the Piedmont.  In Charlotte-- it was the fourth day in a row of sub-20 degree lows.

Colder than we're used to.. and most of us aren't dressing right for the weather.  What are we missing?

"Covering your head and your hands. A large amount of heat is lost in the head."

Dr. Beth Perry.. physician with Signature Health Care at SouthPark says frostbite and hypothermia can be common in temperatures like this.

Hypothermia literally "low heat" occurs when the body temperature drops to 95 degrees and stays low.

In the cold, body heat is lost faster than it can be replaced.  Warning signs include shivering, exhaustion, confusion and other symptoms.

Frostbite she says is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing.

Says Dr. Perry, "Your nose and ears are very susceptible to frostbite because the circulation there in general is number one not as good and then in response to the cold your circulatory system is going to constrict the arteries and further cut off circulation to the extremities.. fingers nose, toes, ears."

"Here we have our smart wool socks..."

To keep the warmth in.. outfitters like Alpine Ski Center in the Dilworth neighborhood offer mittens... which by the way are better than gloves for keeping warm.

Something they call a windstopper hat.. can't imagine any wind getting in here.

And Hot Chillys.. thermal long john underwear.... all for the extreme bitter cold you'll encounter on the slopes and around here in this recent weather.

Amy Balbier says in addition to dressing in layers which will keep you warmer than a single heavy coat.. it's vital to cover up exposed skin.

The threat from the winter weather is real.

She says, "I've seen ski patrol take people down with signs of frostbite and things like that.. fingers and toes going numb and turning gray and ash."

To get completely outfitted costs 300 bucks.  And doctors say running in shorts when it's below freezing is a don't.

Some call hypothermia a silent killer in the sense that many of its victims are not aware of the threat.