Health experts: Cold temperatures bring risk of frostbite, hypothermia

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – With more extreme temperatures expected in the Hoosier State, health professionals are issuing a warning about the dangers that can come from cold exposure.

Dr. Daren Beam, an emergency medicine physician at Eskenazi, says when temperatures drop to single digits and below, frostbite, hypothermia and dehydration are big risks. He says with the temperatures being what they are, hospital staff are anticipating numerous patients coming in with cold-related injuries.

“It can take as little as 30 minutes or less to develop frostbite,” Beam said.

When braving the cold, experts say a “common sense approach” usually works. They recommend spending the least amount of time possible outdoors and packing on the layers and covering exposed skin anytime you do go out. Beam also says it’s important to pay attention to the “signs” your body gives off when dealing with extreme cold.

“We should be cognizant of that and make sure that you’re being aware that if you’re seeing any numbness, redness, swelling, that you need to be warming up,” he said.

Like many situations, Beam says the very young and the very old are the most vulnerable to cold exposure, because they lose body heat at a faster pace. He also recommends keeping an eye on alcohol consumption if you’re planning on being outside. He says alcohol can make a person feel warm, but doesn’t actually raise a person’s core body temperature. Which means it can desensitize them to the signs of exposure.

To help, Eskenazi officials have released this list of tips to battling the cold:

  • Monitoring and maintaining body temperature, especially for infants and older adults who lose heat more quickly, is very important.
  • Heat your home properly and safely, using only certified space heaters and fireplaces when necessary.
  • Drink plenty of warm beverages, like tea or hot chocolate, to keep you warm. The sugar in sweet beverages will help to generate body heat.
  • Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated drinks, as these may contribute to a decrease in body temperature and cause your body to lose heat at a more rapid rate.
  • Always wear a hat, scarf and insulated gloves or mittens to reduce the chance of frostbite or injuries to your extremities. Also, wear layers and stay dry to avoid chills that can reduce body heat.
  • Avoid overexertion when participating in outdoor chores or activities, as cold temperatures put a significant strain on the body, increasing the risk of heart attack or chills due to sweating.