-- HealthDay staff
TUESDAY, Jan. 7, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The record-shattering
cold weather that's gripping much of the United States can pose
extreme health risks, doctors warn.
"It's best to limit your outdoor activity as much as possible, since prolonged exposure can lead to frostbite and hypothermia," said Dr. John Marshall, chair of emergency medicine at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City. "Both of these conditions can become serious, and even life-threatening if untreated."
Monday's deep freeze broke records for the date in Chicago,
where the mercury plunged to minus 16. Records also fell in
Oklahoma and Texas, the
In normally more temperate Atlanta, the temperature sank to 8
degrees. And New York City set a record low for the date Tuesday
morning at 4 degrees.
When temperatures drop that low, there are many simple
safeguards you can take to prevent severe injury, Marshall
When you're out in the cold, the part of your skin that's
exposed will chill rapidly, experts say. This can lead to decreased
blood flow and your body temperature can drop, leaving you
susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia.
According to Marshall, frostbite "starts with tingling or
stinging sensations. The face, fingers, and toes are the first body
parts to be affected. Then muscles and other tissues can become
numb." Additional signs of frostbite include redness and pain in
the skin. This can lead to discolored and numb skin, he said.
Hypothermia, which often goes hand-in-hand with frostbite, can
affect the brain, making it harder to think clearly and make smart
decisions. Warning signs of hypothermia include shivering,
confusion, slurred speech and drowsiness, Marshall said.
"If any of these symptoms become noticeable, you should protect the exposed skin, get to a warm place and seek immediate medical treatment," he said.
Some people are especially vulnerable to the dangers of cold
weather. They include the elderly, those with diabetes, heart, or
circulatory problems, and people who use alcohol, caffeine or other
drugs that inhibit the body's ability to protect itself against the
Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox
Hill Hospital in New York City, said there are several key factors
that determine how long people can endure extremely cold
temperatures. Those factors are wind speed, how well a person is
dressed, and if their skin is wet or moist.
Shoveling snow or working in extremely cold temperatures can be
dangerous because sweat decreases the ability of clothes to provide
Dressing in layers may help. Use the "three-layers guideline" to
provide more effective insulation. The first layer helps to drain
moisture or sweat. The second layer serves as insulation, while a
third sturdy outer layer can help to block out the cold, Glatter
If you think you or another person is suffering from frostbite,
get to a health-care professional as fast as possible or call 911.
If you can't get immediate medical help for at least two hours,
re-warm the affected area with warm water -- but it shouldn't be
boiling or excessively hot. And drink warm, non-alcoholic fluids,
Cindy Lord is director of the physician assistant program at the
Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University in
Hamden, Conn. She likes to use the acronym C.O.L.D. when advising
people on dealing with the cold.
For more on protecting yourself in the cold, visit the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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