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COLD: Physical Effects
The effect of cold upon the human body depends upon the degree of severity of the temperature and upon the power of the body to react to it. The body reacts more readily to a dry cold temperature than to a combination of cold with a moist atmosphere. Persons possessed of a vigorous reaction power will take no harm from extremes of cold which must prove detrimental to others lacking this special endowment. The bather who plunges into cold water becomes, if he is healthy, warmer as a result of his plunge. But no matter how healthy he may be, the time will arrive, if he stays in the cold water, when he will begin to chill. In other words, bodily reaction to cold, like bodily reaction to other circumstances, is limited in duration and in extent.
Like any other power of body or mind, the power of resisting cold is capable of cultivation. It is wise to cultivate it, since by doing so one escapes many ailments. Training of the skin to react to cold should be begun in childhood but much can be done in later if by sensible adaptation of clothing, exposure of the body to the open air, cold bathing, etc. People who should know better betray anxiety lest an open window may give them a chill they overclothe themselves with heavy garments; they refuse to sleep with wide open windows or to take sufficient exercise. And so they lose the power of resisting cold.
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When cold strikes the human skin in the first instance, the skin is emptied of blood by the action of the small vessels coursing through it. The skin becomes pale. In fit, people, however the powers of resistance are mobilised almost as soon as the cold is felt. lf pallor occurs at all it lasts only a few seconds. There succeeds to it a flushing of the skin caused by an opening of the small vessels, and by a quickening of the heart's action. This is technically termed full reaction. The body is more active than it was; the blood is flowing quicker; the breathing is deeper. Cold therefore, is beneficial so long as the body can, actively respond to it. After that point has been reached it is definitely injurious and lowers the vital powers. Severe continued cold or a short exposure to very extreme cold will paralyse the local circulation and set up frost bite.
It follows that no one should endure cold longer than it can be endured in comfort. Never go into cold water unless a vigorous after glow is aasured on coming out. Never sit in a draught after a sense of chilliness has developed. Never remain in the open when the glow of energy has begun to give place to lassitude . But the keeping of these rules need not imply a process of coddling.
The danger of cold begins only when resistance to it is failing. At that moment the bodily resistance to infective agencies has become lowered. Thus a "chill" is often the starting point of an illness not because cold causes disease, but because it favours the attack of the bacteria or virus which are its real cause.