Frigid temperatures and icy wind call certain health concerns to our attention. Health officials warn people to stay warm during the current cold, but what exactly are the health risks people should be concerned with?
Many people believe they will catch a cold if they go outside without a coat, or with wet hair, but Promedica Emergency Medicine Doctor Joseph Perkins said those are only myths.
"Couldn't be further from the truth!" he said. "You don't catch the virus from being outside. You're actually catching it from...being indoors with other people."
Other cold weather concerns are real, though.
Frostbite can set in in a matter of minutes, so it is important to keep all appendages – fingers, toes, ears, nose – covered. Mittens are better than gloves, though, and water-resistant material is always a plus.
Hypothermia is another big concern. It can set in over a longer period of time – 24-48 hours – during which the body's core temperature drops and the body begins to shut down.
But breathing in the cold air can be dangerous, as well.
"In cold weather, the population that we worry about the most are people with underlying lung problems," Perkins explained. "The cold weather will actually constrict or narrow the lung vessels and so people that have COPD or emphysema – it can be terrible on them. We see a lot of them in the emergency room because of the cold weather."
He suggested people breathe through their noses, not their mouths, during cold weather.
Perkins also said the cold weather is another main reason people have heart attacks while shoveling snow. The cold weather constricts blood vessels, which, combined with the physical stress of shoveling, makes the body more susceptible to a heart attack.
Promedica hospitals have had no patients recently with frostbite or hypothermia, though, despite the freezing conditions.
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