(UNDATED) - State health officials are urging Hoosiers to stay safe in extremely cold temperatures by becoming familiar with the risks and taking precautions.
Very cold temperatures, ice and snow can pose hazards both indoors and out. Health officials particularly encourage Hoosiers to stay indoors if at all possible.
"Prolonged exposure to the cold can cause life-threatening health conditions, such as frostbite or hypothermia," said State Health Commissioner William VanNess, M.D. "All Hoosiers should stay indoors now. If you must go outside, be sure to dress in layers, cover your head, face and mouth, and wear a water-resistant coat and snow boots. Never ignore shivering as it is an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors."
Hypothermia, which is the condition of having an abnormally low body temperature, occurs when a person's body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to the cold will ultimately use up a body's stored energy. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well.
Warning signs of hypothermia in adults include:
- Shivering, exhaustion
- Confusion, fumbling hands
- Memory loss, slurred speech
If you notice signs of hypothermia, take a person's temperature. If his/her temperature is below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, seek medical attention immediately.
Signs of hypothermia in infants include bright red, cold skin and very low energy. Infants less than one year old should never sleep in a cold room because they lose body heat more easily than adults and unlike adults, they cannot make enough body heat by shivering. Adults age 65 and older may make less body heat because of slower metabolism and less physical activity. Hoosiers are encouraged to check on older adult neighbors and relatives.
"Babies and older adults are especially vulnerable in these extremely cold temperatures," said Dr. VanNess. "It's important for these groups to stay in rooms with adequate heat. I ask that everyone please be mindful of elderly friends and neighbors and check on them periodically to make sure they are safe."
Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and in severe cases, can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.
Warning signs of frostbite include:
- White or grayish-yellow skin
- Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
At the first signs of redness or pain, get out of the cold. Seek care from a health care professional immediately if you detect symptoms of hypothermia or frostbite.
For individuals who must go outdoors, Health officials recommend wearing the following items:
- A hat or hood (as most heat is lost through the head)
- A scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth
- Sleeves that are snug at the wrist
- Mittens (they are warmer than gloves)
- Water-resistant coat and boots
- Several layers of loose-fitting clothing
Indoors, take precautions to ensure you are heating your home safely and that you have a working carbon monoxide detector.
For more information about winter weather safety, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/guide.asp.
Visit the Indiana State Department of Health's website at www.StateHealth.in.gov.
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