Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana • Jan 30, 2019
Written by Giles Bruce
With arctic, er Antarctic, cold descending on Northwest Indiana, many local residents will be inside, tucked under blankets or warming by the fireplace.
But for those who have no choice but to be outside, Region medical experts are giving warnings for various health ailments to look out for.
Beyond the obvious risks of frostbite and hypothermia — which can lead to amputation and, in the worst cases, death — there is potential for skin allergies, shortness of breath, even heart attacks. People with pre-existing conditions have to be especially careful.
“Patients with respiratory problems, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and asthma, can find this extreme cold can exacerbate this breathing and worsen their conditions,” stated Dr. Mary Raymond, an internist at Franciscan Physician Network St. John Health Center.
“Patients with arthritis often find this weather to worsen their joint pains and make simple chores more challenging. Patients with peripheral arterial disease can find the bitter cold aggravates their extremity pains, particularly in their hands and feet.”
Lori Postma, emergency preparedness educator for the Franciscan Health hospitals in Dyer, Hammond and Munster, gave some signs that the cold is affecting your health, other than just shivering: slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue, confused behavior, skin discoloration, numbness, a swollen face.
“Cold weather can increase your risk of a heart attack,” said Sheila Pochron, director of emergency services and critical care for Methodist Hospitals. “Your heart works harder to keep you warm, which leads to an increased heart rate and blood pressure.”
She also recommended running a humidifier indoors to protect against dry skin and mucous membranes.
“If you are immunocompromised, you’re definitely not going to respond as well to the cold,” noted Dr. Gloria Okereke of Primary Healthcare Associates in Calumet City, which is affiliated with UChicago Ingalls Memorial.
“When we are exposed to cold, our body kicks in different mechanisms to keep us warm; we start to shiver. If someone’s health is compromised, it decreases their response. Those are the patients who really, really need to protect themselves against the cold.”
Some people, particularly younger adults, are susceptible to cold urticaria, a skin allergy characterized by red, itchy hives, she said.
Okereke also noted that people with mental illness or who abuse alcohol may misjudge the severity of the cold.