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With the rise of energy bills and some not-very-helpful comments in the media – from “wear a jumper” to “sit on a warm bus” coming from the top as a solution to the cold weather and rising costs, many are concerned that their very real health worries are not being listened to.
Understandably, many people are concerned for themselves and others about the prospect of being cold, but what can a lower temperature mean to your health?
MoneyMagpie spoke to London-based medic Adam Haswell to find out the effects of cold on the body, from turning your thermostat down to the mental and physical trauma that can set in quite early on when suffering the cold, even in your own home.
“Someone in social poverty, where they have the thermostat down all the time or off – they are normalising their range of expected base temperature, so they’re closer to the tipping point of being dangerously hypothermic which, on a particularly cold day or night, might just happen.
This is a worry because when you’re even a little bit hypothermic, you start to get quite profound effects on the body.”
Haswell observes, “From the top down: brain effects are confusion, drowsiness, clumsiness and poor coordination. Moving down to the chest: shivering, shallow breathing, so you’re not oxygenating your blood as effectively. Your heart rate can change and, in the event of severe hypothermia, stop altogether.
Further down, prolonged cold can cause kidney damage, chillblains and skin damage from extreme cold: as you get colder, your bloodstream carries your blood deeper into your body to try and keep your vital organs going.”
There are many careless or uneducated attitudes being fired off in the media lately concerning what to do if you find yourself in need of help, and Haswell shares the concern that these attitudes are normalising being cold: “A general worry is that with the cognitive and mental effects of early to middle hypothermia, people suffering are less likely to engage with the mental process of putting a jumper on or putting the heater on, so it’s a bit of spiral once you embark on that journey: it’s very dangerous.”
He goes on to illustrate that “the saying is, ‘you’re not dead until you’re warm and dead,’ so for example, if we pulled someone out of the Thames, we’d have to continue resuscitation until their core temperature was 37 degrees Celsius.
My major concern is with those who are more at risk with hypothermia, such as frailer, elderly people who typically live alone, and may have otter health conditions anyway, are physiologically sitting on a knife edge: a particularly cold snap is a huge risk to those people.”
Clearly this really is time for concern as the impact has devestating potential. More needs to be done regarding the protection of the elderly and vulnerable at a time when the cost of living is skyrocketing and actual lives are at stake. And with further callous comments from MPs this week that people need to “work more hours” or “move to a better job” to combat the cost of living, there is a huge disparity between society’s very real problems and their perceived solutions.
So what can you do if you’re concerned about yourself or someone else who’s forced to suffer the cold?
We’ve recently published stories detailing how to combat high energy bills so that being cold doesn’t have to be an option.
Here’s our Top Ten Tips to reduce energy bills.
The NEA have published this link to contact your MP to get the lowdown on help available in your area.
They also suggest that we tweet our local MP
“If you want to contact your MP via Twitter:
“I’m a constituent, @MPTWITTERHANDLE, and I’m calling on you to back @NEA_UKCharity and provide greater financial support for the most vulnerable during the #EnergyCrisis. Those in fuel poverty need #TargetedEnergySupport before the #SpringStatement. #StopTheEnergyRebate.”
As we’re always extolling the virtues of asking someone for help, we’ll add that here too. It’s always worth discussing the problem with someone rather than suffering alone: if not via a friend or family in a similar position – or in a position to help – then via services such as the CAB, which can help or put you in touch with those who can. There are also free debt advice agencies like Turn2Us.org.uk. Your local council can point you in the direction of local grants and, sometimes, cash from their own emergency funds.