Bitter cold a health concern

Register City Editor

Lisa Griffith

With bitterly cold temperatures forecast well into the weekend, the best advice is “stay in,” said Lisa Griffith, RN, patient care coordinator for Allen County Hospital’s emergency room.
Those who do venture out should wear a hat or cap and gloves, Griffith said, noting the head and hands are where heat exits a person’s body when he or she otherwise is bundled up against the cold.
People also should take special care on slippery surfaces. Slips and falls are common when snow and ice is present, she said.
“Older folks are particularly at risk of falling, as are parents carrying children,” Griffith said. “Just take it slow and use handrails and other things to steady yourself.”
Health concerns when temperatures drop to single digits and below zero are frostbite and hypothermia.
“Wind also is a factor,” Griffith said. “With temperatures as cold as they are and with strong wind people can be at risk of having frostbite on exposed skin within 30 minutes of being outdoors.”
Indications of frostbite are numbness, loss of sensitivity and a burning sensation. The first visible sign is blanched skin.
“As severity increases, skin gets red and then purple,” Griffith noted. “Also, as severity increases, sensitivity of touch decreases.”
In mild cases, full recovery is anticipated, she said. In severe cases infection may develop and in worst cases body parts may have to be amputated. Griffith said people with diabetes, peripheral vascular problems and those taking beta blockers are more susceptible.
“And you shouldn’t smoke outside when it gets this cold,” she cautioned. “Smoking causes blood vessels to constrict,” which reduces the time that frostbite can occur.
Hypothermia occurs when a person’s body temperature drops below 96 degrees, and is a concern whenever someone is exposed to cold and unable to return to a warm environment.
Circumstances that might lead to hypothermia are if someone falls out of sight of help, Griffith said, “such as when a person goes into a garage to get into their car, and falls and lies there unable to get help.”
“That’s why it’s important to move slowly and carefully and find something to hold onto to keep yourself upright,” she said.
Extremely cold conditions can complicate respiratory problems and lower immunity to such things as H1N1 virus and pneumonia, Griffith said. The elderly and very young children are more at risk.
“A concern every winter is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in children from zero to two years of age,” she said. “Very cold air can cause complications and make it worse.”

THE FORECAST is for the temperature to dip to 5 degrees below zero tonight with winds gusting to 25 miles an hour and a wind chill index of 25 below.
Friday is expected to be sunny with a high of 5 degrees and an overnight low of 10 below. The wind chill tomorrow, prompted by gusting winds, is expected to be 25 below. Winds will abate Friday night, but the wind child is still expected to approach 20 below zero.
Slight warming is anticipated Saturday, with a high of 10 to 15 and overnight low of zero to 5 below. Sunday’s high is expected to be 30, with a low that night of 15 to 20.