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Cold Weather Warnings May Miss Those Who Need It Most

Homeless, mentally ill, substance abusers account for most frostbite cases

(INDIANAPOLIS) -  Single-digit temperatures mean plenty of warnings to bundle up. But the people most at risk may not be in a position to heed them.

Low temperatures create a risk of frostbite if you leave skin exposed, or hypothermia if you don't dress warmly. But professor of emergency medicine Dan Rusyniak at Eskenazi Health says frostbite patients at the ER are almost always people who can't or won't come in from the cold: the homeless, the mentally ill, or people with substance abuse issues. Alcohol can create a double whammy: people sometimes pass out or fall asleep in the cold, and the physiological effects of the alcohol itself get in the way of the body's ability to generate heat.

Blood-pressure medicines and some psychiatric medications can make you more vulnerable to frostbite, by interfering with the process of rushing blood to your fingers and toes to warm them up. And diabetes reduces blood flow, which can also impede the body's ability to heat itself. But dressing warmly should be enough to prevent health risks.

Temperatures will frequently dip into the single digits this week, and are expected to drop below zero Saturday night. And Rusyniak says the wind chill is just as significant as the unadjusted temperature - the wind accelerates the removal of heat from your body.

(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)


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