Doctors warn of dangers with coldest air in 20 years

Take precautions against hypothermia, frostbite

INDIANAPOLIS - As Hoosiers gear up for a major winter weather storm, doctors are bracing for packed emergency rooms.

Officials said they expect to see cold weather-related injuries due to the accumulating snow and the coldest temperatures that Hoosiers have seen in 20 years.

Frostbite and hypothermia are two of the biggest threats. Doctors say they can happen in just minutes in the bitter cold temperatures that Hoosiers will experience at the end of the weekend and the start of the workweek.

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Frostbite can happen very quickly and can cause irreversible damage.

"If it's bad enough and you don't get it warmed in time it can lead to amputation," Dr. Ryan Venis said. "What we recommend is unless you absolutely have to, to stay indoors. Because once you get outside, any exposed skin within about 10 or 15 minutes can actually freeze."

Venis is an ER doctor at St. Vincent Health. He expects emergency rooms to get slammed over the next few days due to cold weather-related injuries -- and not just frostbite and hypothermia.

"Cold, ice, a lot of slips and falls, a lot of broken bones, a lot of head injuries. I think we as Hoosiers forget from year to year what the winter is really like or what it can be like," Venis said.

Clearing snow is another big hazard. The forecasted snow will be heavy and accumulate quickly. Experts said people should not try to clear it all at once. Anyone with heart or lung problems should have someone else do it for them.

As for sledding fun, Venis said with the coldest temperatures in 20 years expected, it's best to keep the kids inside during the next snowfall.

"Blood flow gets reduced to our faces, our hands, our fingers, toes. And so those areas especially can be really affected and become frostbit pretty easily," Venis said.

Signs of hypothermia include becoming lethargic, confused and having bright-red skin.

Signs of frostbite include pale or painful skin.

Children and the elderly are more susceptible and should be watched closely during the upcoming cold snap.

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