The extreme winter weather can have extreme impacts on health — but there are ways to prevent serious issues.
Christus Trinity Clinic Dr. Lori Wyatt said some of the biggest issues people have to worry about are frostbite and hypothermia, which can both happen when someone is exposed to the cold for too long.
"Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature gets too low," she said. "Frostbite happens when a specific body part is in contact with cold temperatures too long."
There are ways to detect both. Wyatt said frostbite starts as numbness or a clumsy feeling. It will be followed by the skin changing color, which would need to be corrected quickly.
"Hypothermia is a risk, particularly as people are losing electricity and have limited ways to heat their homes," Wyatt said. "Our older population can be more at risk for this since certain chronic medical illnesses and some medications make it harder for the body to compensate for lowering body temperatures. Hypothermia begins with shivering, but the person may also notice rapid breathing, a fast heart rate, and a slowing or difficulty moving the body. This can progress into confusion, which is a serious symptom."
Besides freezing temperatures' effects on the body, Wyatt said ice increases the chances of accidents and limit access to food, water and medications.
As people experience power outages, there are ways to still stay warm in the house, she said.
"Start with layering your clothes," Wyatt said. "This can help insulate the body to avoid losing body heat. Try to keep everyone in one room. Close off the rest of the house, covering windows and doors with blankets or towels to prevent cold drafts. If you are able, use a fireplace to heat the room. If you do not have a fireplace, candles can be lit, as even a small flame can make a difference. Having someone to snuggle with can also help. Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of sharing body heat."
People should try to avoid going outside, but snow in East Texas is rare and can be fun to play in, Wyatt said. There is still a safe way to do so.
It is best to layer clothes and cover all vulnerable skin before heading outdoors, she said. The snow also gives another reason to wear masks — to protect the face from the cold.
"It’s important to take frequent breaks from the cold, and to warm up appropriately between exposures. Remove all wet clothing," she said. "Heat the skin slowly with warm water. Avoid hot water or rubbing the skin. Always seek emergency help if there is concern."