Chilly vs. Hot: why we experience temperature so differently

How we will be fussy with the cold and heat that car manufacturers have had to invent the dual zone climate control, so that the pilot goes to 22ºC, the co-pilot to 23ºC and nobody gets angry. The issue of the temperature in which we feel comfortable and the clothes that each one needs to withstand certain degrees is very curious. A priori, one might think that, with everyone having a very similar body temperature, the sensation of cold at 8 degrees or that of heat at 30 should be similar for everyone, but it is not like that. There is always someone who asks to close a window before anyone else, which goes in a T-shirt when the rest wears a sweatshirt or that hangs on the beach while the rest are roasted by heat.

Why are we cold or hot? Is it a simple exaggeration of what we feel in our body? What factors influence the way we live how hot it is? We talk to the Dr. Jenny Dávalos Marín, member of the Dermatology Working Group of the Spanish Society of General and Family Physicians (SEMG), who has already written an interesting article on this matter.

"All people perceive cold differently because we have different biological responses to the same temperature that we are exposed to," says Dávalos, who highlights various factors differentials that justify being people more prone to being colder or hotter than the rest, such as the received genetic inheritance, the propensity for oily skin (which provides more protection against external temperatures and less heat loss) or a low body fat index, which probably causes less protection against low temperatures. As the brain is in charge of regulating the temperature and keeping our body in one that is comfortable for us, the doctor, when asked by El Confidencial, also warns of other additional factors that can condition this feeling: "when we have certain medical conditions, such as thyroid involvement, medical treatments or drug or alcohol intoxication, these mechanisms are affected, and may give a false thermal alarm ". This clearly happens in patients with alcohol intoxication, who feel that they are not cold and can even die from frostbite.

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Gender also influences in the possibility of feeling the temperature in a different way: women are more prepared to withstand extreme temperatures, so they tend to be more cold. Their higher proportion of subcutaneous fat makes it easier for them to conserve heat in their body, but the signals that come from their brain from the skin translate as cold and they feel the need to warm up.

But … Do we then have to pay attention to what our body is telling us or what most people do with that temperature? If I am really comfortable in a T-shirt while everyone around me is wearing at least one sweatshirt and tells me to bundle up, should I continue as I feel comfortable or should I wrap myself up? "This is very relative, since many factors intervene. The important thing is to be aware that the sensation of heat or cold is a susceptibility of each individual, that is, it will depend on the avidity to activate and sustain thermal compensation mechanisms over time. Going warm than others is something very particular as long as we maintain an ideal body temperature".

"The human body is in thermal comfort between 21 and 25 degrees"

These thermal differences between friends or family often remain a simple anecdote, since the degrees indicated by the thermometer in those situations does not generate a health risk, but From what temperatures do we have to be very aware of our body so that it does not suffer? Dr. Dávalos explains that, both for cold and hot people, "thermal comfort is one in which the thermoregulatory mechanisms of our body do not intervene. The human body is in this state when temperatures oscillate between 21 and 25 degrees" . Problems come with both hypothermic and hyperthermic situations. "Hypothermia occurs when the body loses more heat than it can generate and the body temperature drops below 35ºC, something difficult to measure with the thermometers we have at home." In the opposite case, hyperthermia, the heat produces risks to the organism when the body temperature reaches unusually high limits, something that our expert establishes from 37.5 or 38.3 ºC, as reported by the National Institutes of the Health (NIH) of the United States. "If you reach body temperatures of 40ºC, dangerous heat stroke can appear, and if it rises to 42ºC, death can occur."

With what thermal situation do we have to be more careful then? This particular risk duel between hot and cold has two powerful enemies, since "both expose the body to extreme situations in vulnerable people, which can induce high morbidity and mortality by not being able to perpetually activate the adaptation mechanisms to maintain euthermia", but in general terms, mortality is higher during winter than in summer by approximately 10-15%. "Cold-related deaths are much more frequent than heat-related deaths in many places on the planet. It is confirmed that this is the case in the United States, Europe and almost all tropical countries. "

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The cold person or the hot one therefore has scientific arguments behind to defend what he feels, even if someone else may think it's an exaggeration. The most important thing is to be attentive to our body, to situations in which our temperature regulators can react in an inappropriate way (when entering a room with a significant change in temperature when we are wearing several layers of clothing) and to external agents that can cause these regulators directly to malfunction, such as the fact of taking medications for the treatment of insomnia, anxiety and depression, as well as some cardiotonics and vasodilators facilitate heat loss.