Alcohol and the Cold Don’t Mix

For most college students, the harsh Chicago cold is easier to prepare for than an upcoming literature midterm. However, just because they know how to prepare for the weather doesn’t mean they do; it’s not uncommon to see groups of students walking to the gym without coats or to the EL wearing their “going out” clothes.

Chicago is in the midst of winter, with temperatures dropping as low as 4 degrees this past month, according to ABC7. Loyola Medical Center burn surgeon Dr. Arthur Sanford treats between 40 to 60 cases of frostbite during Chicago’s long winter season. His advice to students is simple: Take precautions, especially when drinking.

“Although it may feel like it, alcohol doesn’t make you warmer,” said Sanford. “Alcohol brings blood closer to the surface of the skin, but the body is still actually cold.”

Insulation is important for protection from Chicago’s biting winds, which can have gusts faster than 15 miles per hour.

Senior Iyore Omerey, a desk receptionist at one of the freshmen dorms, said she saw many students not taking measures to protect themselves against the cold.

“On the weekend, everyone goes out to party and hang out. When inclement weather hits, it’s not really trendy to dress properly,” said Omerey. “You want to be cute, so you have a dress on and you’re not conscious of the weather.”

Joan Holden, adult nurse practitioner and associate director of the Wellness Center, agrees that alcohol can potentially harm a student in freezing temperatures.

“When you’re drinking, your judgement is not only impaired, but the alcohol causes vasodilation, which leads to increased heat loss, sometimes causing frostbite,” Holden said. Vasodilation is when the blood vessels expand, reducing blood pressure.

Holden said students should appropriately prepare themselves for the cold, whether or not they will be drinking.

“We recommend our students to dress warmly with mittens, hats and scarves and to have an emergency plan on hand,” she said. “We also recommend having adequate calorie intake before going out.”

Junior Shannon Figueroa said she has seen people who don’t want to wear their coats if they’re going out because they don’t want to hold them or pay to check them at the bar.

“You never know how fast [the cold] could affect your body,” Figueroa said. “If you’re intoxicated, you don’t even notice that you’re cold.”

A combination of wind chill, humidity and moisture is the easiest way to get frostbite, according to Sanford, fingers, toes, ears and nose the areas at the greatest risk.

“The magic number for frostbite weather is a wind chill of minus 19 or lower,” said Sanford. “You can get these injuries in 30 minutes or less.”

If a frostbite patient seeks treatment at a hospital immediately, Sanford said doctors are usually able to treat the burns and potentially heal them.

Students have visited the Wellness Center in early stages of frostbite, but she recommends that students go to the hospital if they are experiencing frostbite symptoms, according to Holden.

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