Without shelter, a person can die from exposure in three to four hours. The purpose of sheltering is to help our bodies maintain a normal body temperature of about 98.6°. The human body uses the hypothalamus to internally regulate temperatures by controlling the constriction and dilation of blood vessels, sweating, and shivering – but it can only do so much to counter the extremes in our environments.
What external, environmental influences can affect our body temperature? Obviously, temperature extremes of hot and cold can affect us as well as our exposure to the elements like wind and rain. If our bodies are wet from rain, being in water, or sweating we will lose heat faster than if we are dry.
Our circulatory system uses water to transport heat throughout our bodies, so our level of hydration is a factor as well. Just as a tuned-up car works best, our health and the quality of our diet can determine how well our bodies can maintain temperature. If we are physically exerting ourselves, we will be generating internal heat.
Our internal regulatory systems will be affected as well if we are taking medications or intoxicants like alcohol, nicotine, or drugs. These DO NOT warm the body, they cause the body to relax, giving the sensation of warming, but in reality the body is losing heat at a much faster rate.
If the body gets too cold and the temperature drops below 98.6 degrees, it is known as hypothermia. Symptoms include shivering. If you are shivering, you are in the first stages of hypothermia. Other symptoms are slurred speech, apathy, confusion, loss of fine motor skills, difficulty walking or maintaining balance. As severity increases, skin may turn pale or gray. Eventually shivering will stop and the internal organs start to shut down.
If the body gets too hot and the temperature rises above 98.6 degrees, it is known as hyperthermia. Symptoms include thirst, sweating, slurred speech, apathy, confusion, loss of fine motor skills, difficulty walking or maintaining balance, headache, dizziness, and nausea. As severity increases, there could be vomiting, cramps, rapid pulse and breathing. Eventually the body stops sweating and the internal organs start to shut down.
Hypothermia and hyperthermia both have different levels of severity and they can both be deadly. Watch yourself and others for the symptoms and treat as necessary.