Why Sub-zero Winds, Temps Can Make Breathing Painful

By: Josh Sidorowicz Email
By: Josh Sidorowicz Email

With many of the schools in the Lansing area already calling off classes for a second day Tuesday, there will no doubt be plenty of kids at home looking to get outside and into the snow.

But before you send them out, hypothermia and frostbite aren't the only potential hazards to watch out for when temps get this icy.

When temps and wind chills become this cold, Dr. Scott Lazzara with McLaren Redi Care in South Lansing warns the arctic temperatures can take a toll on lungs too.

"What happens is that the wind or the temperature is so cold that most of our cells which are made of fluid starts to crystallize because it freezes," he said.

"So what happens is when you get that sore throat or burning sensation, those tissues--that are moist in general--start freezing up."

Dr. Lazzara added lung muscles can also begin to tense up and spasm which can bring on coughing and near asthma-like symptoms.

"The lungs just literally clamp down and they become short of breath, they get the cough, they get irritated," he said. "For someone who is not used to being out in the cold it can set in within a matter of minutes."

It can affect anyone, even those without asthma, but he warns individuals who have pre-existing lung conditions like emphysema, asthma, or COPD to take extra caution if outside, according to Lazzara. He recommends keeping a scarf or mask over your mouth to protect against the effects of the cold.

"My best advice, it's one of those rare times where I'd say it's best to let the kids stay inside and play their video games," Lazzara said. "Wait it out until it's not as cold."

It's not advice Michigan State senior Zachary Fursmidt wanted to heed. The bitter cold Monday wasn't enough to stop him from making the most of his rare snow day and taking to the sled hills at Ranney Park near Frandor.

"I called some people to come with me, but everyone was like 'it's too cold, we can't do it' so I figured why not go myself,'" he said. "It's a little cold but I'm used to it."

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