Can cold air really choke someone to death?

Discussion in 'Biology & Genetics' started by GaiaGirl95, Jan 6, 2014.

  1. GaiaGirl95 Banned Banned

    Messages:
    116
    I read a news article about a farmer who went out to check his barn when it was -2 degrees F and his thymus gland swole up from the extreme cold and he choked to death. It's going to be minus 20 degrees F and that scares me a lot. I found the article in the Google News Archives , and the headline was ' man suffocates in cold ' or something along the lines of that . Any thoughts? Is the cold air really that dangerous?
     
  2. joepistole Ordo Ad Chao Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    17,058
    It' cannot choke you. But it could put you into shock which in turn could kill you. However, if you are in good health, I don't think you have much to worry about. But as always with cold temperatures you must always be concerned with hypothermia and with extreme cold it doesn't take very long for someone to become hypothermic if they are not sufficiently insulated. That said, I am not a medical doctor but a former emergency medical technician and former Navy Corpsman.
     
  3. GaiaGirl95 Banned Banned

    Messages:
    116
    He went to inspect his barn in the cold, then came rushing back choking. It was found his thymus gland had swollen so much due to the cold, that his windpipe had closed off.
     
  4. joepistole Ordo Ad Chao Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    17,058
    That doesn't make sense. The thymus gland is inside the chest cavity and it has nothing to do with the respiratory system. Let me be a little more clear, it sits behind the sternum (i.e. chest bone). It isn't a part of or near the windpipe.
     
  5. spidergoat Give me heat, and then I'll add the wood. Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    47,117
    Just make sure your thymus gland is well insulated with a scarf and you'll be fine.
     
  6. GaiaGirl95 Banned Banned

    Messages:
    116
    The thymus gland lies directly on the windpipe. If the windpipe is cold enough it will affect the temperature of the thymus gland as well.
     
  7. joepistole Ordo Ad Chao Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    17,058
    No it doesn't. Are you going to rewrite Gray's Anatomy?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thymus
     
  8. GaiaGirl95 Banned Banned

    Messages:
    116
    The diagram shows that it is. If the thymus gland swells it can cause respiratory problems. It lies very close to the windpipe.
     
  9. joepistole Ordo Ad Chao Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    17,058

    No it doesn't. The thymus gland is not connected to the respiratory system...period. If the thymus gland would enlarge at worst, it would intrude into the pericardium (i.e. the sack that contains the heart. And being so close to the heart, if the thymus gland got cold enough to cause problems, you have much bigger problems because your heart would not be adequately pumping blood by that time.
     
  10. GaiaGirl95 Banned Banned

    Messages:
    116
    Evidently, the thymus gland is very sensitive to changes in temperature. The news article mentions other cases of death from acute thymus gland swelling, including one that was caused by a sudden shocking fright.
     
  11. joepistole Ordo Ad Chao Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    17,058
    And which news article would that be? The entire body is sensitive to changes in temperature, most importantly the heart. At cold temperatures heart muscles become very irritable and contract erratically. That causes cardiogenic shock which leads to death.
     
  12. GaiaGirl95 Banned Banned

    Messages:
    116
    The news article which talks about the death of the farmer from acute thymus gland swelling caused by extreme cold.
    Somehow the thymus gland is the most temperature sensitive organ.
     
  13. joepistole Ordo Ad Chao Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    17,058
    Ok, how about a link to that newspaper article?
     
  14. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    16,935
    Extreme cold might trigger asthma or something, but if the internal organs of your body have chilled down enough to affect your thymus gland you're probably in a morgue cooler already.

    Adult men don't have much of a thymus gland left - it's mostly converted to fat.

    And -2F is not an extreme temperature. My nose hairs don't even ice up at that temperature. (I spent all Sunday afternoon walking around outside a bunch of parked trucks at -10 or so, in reasonable comfort without bothering with the serious winter getup. Anything down to about -20F is pretty safe, at least for ordinary life - you can go out to the woodpile in your house clothes or shovel the walk in a jacket and single gloves, the kids can walk the dog around the block or get their butts to school and get home with a lost glove by tucking their hands in their sleeves and armpits, ice skating is fun, etc).

    The panic in the news reports in Minneapolis was a bit odd - if anyone needs evidence of global warming, there it is: -20F in the morning is now an emergency. When I was kid, it was called "winter". Granted that was over by North Dakota on the prairie, but the schools didn't close for cold at all, let alone something like -20. As a kid we used to hope for blizzards, not deep cold - when it warmed up enough for a heavy blizzard, you might get a day off.
     
  15. GaiaGirl95 Banned Banned

    Messages:
    116
    I can't post links. I offered advice on how to find the article.
     
  16. joepistole Ordo Ad Chao Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    17,058
    Well that minus 20 degree tolerance depends on the individual, age, health and they way they are dressed. If you fall into 29 degree seawater without a survival suit, you have only minutes to live before succumbing to hypothermia.

    http://www.ussartf.org/cold_water_survival.htm
     
  17. joepistole Ordo Ad Chao Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    17,058
    It doesn't change the fact that the thalamus is next to the heart and not connected to the lungs or trachea, bronchus or bronchi or anything connected to the respiratory system. So breathing cold air would not affect it anymore than it would affect any other organ in the body.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2014
  18. siledre Registered Senior Member

    Messages:
    487
    does it prevent you from revealing the source of the article?
     
  19. rpenner Fully Wired Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    3,268
    These ancient news stories are hilarious. The super funny thing was this is what passed for good medical advice prior to 1955.

    http://news.google.com/newspapers?n...9MlAAAAIBAJ&sjid=B_wFAAAAIBAJ&pg=5410,1795860

    January 14, 1926.

    Monday would have been January 11, 1926

    http://news.google.com/newspapers?n...iAvAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Dd0FAAAAIBAJ&pg=2554,2319858
    The Norwalk Hour - Mar 15, 1926

    Basically, it's a gross mistake to rely on antique anecdotes for reliable medical and scientific information. Neither of these reports are credible when attributing death to the size of the thymus or the size of the thymus to sudden shock or fright. In the 1950's it was discovered everything that was believed true about the normal size of the thymus was based on the cadavers of people who died after long stressful declines which reduces the size of the thymus and so healthy people were frequently misdiagnosed with enlarged thymuses and even subjected to unnecessary radiation therapy on that mistaken basis. In the early 1960's the actual function of the thymus was first discovered.
     
  20. GaiaGirl95 Banned Banned

    Messages:
    116
    Then how do you explain the enlarged thymus found in the deceased woman, her windpipe crushed completely shut, and the man who choked to death?
     

Share This Page