As cold temperatures begin to settle into the winter forecast for Central Indiana, it is vital that individuals begin to prepare for serious health and safety concerns that may accompany extreme weather conditions this season.

Freezing or near freezing temperatures and severe winter weather can make staying warm a challenge, increasing the risk of developing hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration, trench or immersion foot, and other related illnesses or health concerns. In addition, serious safety hazards such as ice- and snow-covered roads and walkways, power failures, and carbon-monoxide poisoning from the use of fireplaces or heaters result in hundreds of deaths and injuries each year during periods of extreme cold.

“There are several precautions people should take when outside in extreme cold conditions for extended periods.  The first is to dress appropriately by wearing several layers of clothing, beginning with soft, warm layers and working out to more wind-resistant materials,” said Dr. Charles Miramonti, medical director of the Michael & Susan Smith Emergency Department at Eskenazi Health. “It is also important to keep moving without overexerting yourself.  This will help increase your circulation and will make you feel warmer and more comfortable.”

Eating well-balanced meals and consuming warm beverages free of alcohol and caffeine will also help to preserve the body’s internal temperature, said Dr. Miramonti. Those most susceptible to adverse reactions to extreme cold are the elderly, infants and children, individuals who use drugs and alcohol, and those who remain outdoors for long periods of time. People suffering from cancer, HIV, mental illness, heart disease and diabetes are also at-risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these additional safety tips when preparing for cold weather:

  • 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 yourself 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.

Heavy snow and ice storms are also a serious threat to the roads during the winter months, often stalling or paralyzing entire areas, cities or regions. The National Weather Service reports that approximately 70 percent of injuries from snow or ice are in the form of motor vehicle accidents, with 25 percent resulting in people caught outside in a storm.

Dr. Miramonti suggests having a well-equipped emergency car kit packed away in the trunk of your car. This emergency car kit should include items like blankets, jumper cables, a flashlight, ice scraper, pocketknife, antifreeze and granola bars.

“As a Level I trauma center, we see a variety of injuries in the winter months that could be avoided or limited by following some simple precautions,” said Dr. Miramonti.  “The best advice is to just slow down, stay warm and take it easy.”

Most importantly, Dr. Miramonti stresses that staying indoors and avoiding the roads, especially during storms when temperatures are below freezing and wind chill temperatures are low, are the most effective preventative measures in staying healthy and safe this winter.