Extreme Cold Temperatures Create Serious Health Risks

Temperatures are plummeting across much of the country and some areas may even see some of the coldest temperatures on record. The nation’s emergency physicians warn that this could be potentially life-threatening and urge people to prepare now.

“The cold in certain parts of the country is not just uncomfortable – it’s downright dangerous,” said Vidor Friedman, MD, FACEP, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “Even a few minutes in cold temperatures like this can cause serious risk to your health. Make sure you are ready, make sure your home is ready and do not stay outside if you don’t have to be out.”

Dr. Friedman adds that even a few minutes in the severe cold that is predicted can cause frostbite and hypothermia.

Symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Sluggishness
  • Confusion
  • Shallow, slow breathing
  • Unusual behavior
  • Slow, irregular heartbeat

Other signs may include a lack of sensation in the affected area; and skin that appears waxy, cold to the touch or discolored (flushed, white, gray, yellow, blue or purple). To prevent hypothermia, avoid prolonged exposure to the cold, ensure adequate heating, and dress appropriately for the environment and circumstances. In addition, avoid excessive alcohol consumption and the use of illegal substances, which can increase the risk of hypothermia.

As temperatures drop, it’s more likely that people stay inside. In the house, it’s important to make sure that carbon monoxide detectors are working, you are using heaters or radiators safely and appropriately. Now is the time to make sure your pets are accounted for and safe.

“If you must go outside, do so sparingly and dress appropriately for the cold,” said Dr. Friedman. “Check on your friends and loved ones and be particularly mindful of vulnerable people – children, the elderly or people that may have nowhere safe or warm to go. If you think you are having an emergency, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.”