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Illinoisans Can Face Health Risks in Bitter Cold

PHOTO: Winterís deep freeze is officially upon Illinois, and experts are reminding residents of the injuries that can occur in cold temperatures.
PHOTO: Winterís deep freeze is officially upon Illinois, and experts are reminding residents of the injuries that can occur in cold temperatures.
January 3, 2014

CHICAGO – The white stuff has stopped falling but the first winter storm of the year has left Illinoisans coping with piles of snow, bitter wind and freezing temperatures.

Health experts say there are many health risks that can come from cold weather.

Slips and falls are very common, and Dr. Armando Marquez, emergency room physician at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, says it's important to wear sturdy shoes in the snow or ice. Also cold and moisture can contribute to frostbite.

"The most common areas are going to be your nose, your ears, your fingertips and, depending on how much time you are outside,” he explains. “But I would say at least 15 minutes, if it's freezing outside, it would probably take less than that."

Marquez says you can prevent frostbite by avoiding exposure to the wind and cold when outside by bundling up, using layers and covering vulnerable areas.

Forecasters say early next week, the temperatures are not expected to get above zero and overnight lows could reach 20 below.

Frostbite can be minor or severe, and Marquez says signs are redness, numbness or tingling.

"Usually warming your hands or your feet with warm water or a nice hot shower, that should clear it up,” he says. “But if you have a persistent numbness or tingling or blanching of your skin, I would pursue medical attention."

Marquez points out shoveling snow can lead to injury for some, and he says it's important to listen to your body and not overdo it.

"If you're healthy and you're strong and you're used to working out, you're probably going to be okay,” he says. “But be conscious of your surroundings, whether you're hydrated or warm enough and you're not feeling short of breath, you're not feeling any chest pain, you're not dizzy, you're not any of those things, you're probably doing okay."

Another risk with exposure to freezing temperatures is hypothermia, when the core body temperature drops. It can lead to confusion, unconsciousness and even death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 1,300 deaths in the U.S. each year associated with exposure to excessive cold.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL