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Northeast Ohio doctors are asking the public to take care to prevent injuries as winter storm rolls in

Cleveland snow.jpg
Stephanie Czekalinski
Ideastream Public Media
Unshoveled driveways can pose dangers, doctors warn.

With the massive bomb cyclone headed toward Northeast Ohio, doctors are warning people to do everything they can to avoid the roadways and going outside.

The projected 30 to 40-mile-an-hour winds and rain, followed by freezing temperatures and snow, create conditions that are hazardous for people, doctors said.

“That potential for that rain-to-ice conversion can absolutely cause an increased risk of road accident because it's going to be tough to... see that,” said Dr. Robert Hughes, of University Hospitals.

Those planning to attend the Cleveland Browns’ game Saturday should consider skipping the tailgate, he said.

Frostbite can set in as little as 30 minutes under normal conditions, Hughes said. Add extreme cold and wind, particularly high-speed wind, and that time can go down to ten or 15 minutes.

The expected rainfall and potentially 14-foot Lake Erie waves may spill onto roadways. The resulting puddles can dampen clothes, increasing the possibility of hypothermia, Hughes said.

If you have to go outside, Hughes said to be sure to dress in multiple layers.

“Tight clothing doesn't really do a lot for you,” he said. “It's the looser, multiple layers trapping that layer of warm air next to you [that] can really minimize the sort of rapidity with which your body temperature can drop.”

People need to take care inside as well, said Michael Pallaci , and emergency doctor with Summa Health. In cold weather he sees an increase in cases of carbon monoxide poisoning — often caused when people try to heat their homes with their stoves or space heaters.

“If you're going to use a gas-based heater or a generator, it's important that it's really well placed, preferably in the garage or where it's well-ventilated," he said.

He also sees injuries caused when extension cords that are connected to electric space heaters catch fire.

Pallaci said people without secure housing are most at risk of frostbite and hypothermia in these conditions, though he’s also concerned about outdoor workers and the elderly.

He said people should check on vulnerable neighbors or family.

The risk of cold-weather injuries continues even a day or two after the snowstorm, said Dr. Judy Welsh, an emergency physician at Cleveland Clinic Akron General.

“If you have undiagnosed heart disease and decide to go out and shovel, that's where we see people having heart attacks and other cardiac events that were otherwise preventable,” she said. “Similarly, we see people who may not notice that there are small patches of ice on the ground, and they go outside and have an accident where they slip and fall."

That can lead to hip fractures and other preventable injuries, she said.

The cold sneaks up on everyone, Welsh said. It’s important to keep an eye on your family to be sure they’re warm enough.

Elderly folks are also more sensitive to temperature and may not perceive the cold exactly the same way a younger person might,” she said. “So making sure that your senior citizens and your little babies are well cared for and safe is absolutely critical when the weather is this cold.”

Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.