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Pennsylvanians Can Face Health Risks in Bitter Cold

January 6, 2014 - Tom Joseph
HARRISBURG- Many areas across Pennsylvania could experience record-setting cold over the next couple of days, and that means residents will be coping with freezing temperatures, biting winds and leftover snow. Experts say many health risks can come from cold weather, and Tuesday could see a number of cities and towns in the state struggle to reach daytime highs in the double digits. 

In such conditions, slips and falls are very common, and according to emergency room physician Dr. Armando Marquez, 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, depending on how much time you are outside. But I would say at least 15 minutes: if it's freezing outside, it would probably take less than that."

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

Frostbite can be minor or severe, and Marquez said signs of it 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, but if you have a persistent numbness or tingling or blanching of your skin, I would pursue medical attention."

Marquez said shoveling snow can lead to injury for some, so 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 OK," the doctor said. "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 OK."

Another risk with exposure to freezing temperatures is hypothermia, when the core body temperature drops. The Pennsylvania Department of Health says it can lead to confusion, unconsciousness and even death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are about 1,300 deaths in the U.S. each year associated with exposure to excessive cold.

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