INDIANAPOLIS — Extreme cold can take its toll during the winter months. Health officials are urging people to take precautions if they have to venture outdoors.

Extremely cold temperatures and other winter weather conditions are forecasted for Thursday through the weekend. The national weather service says extremely cold air combined with brisk winds, can cause dangerously cold wind chills.

Extreme cold can lead to frostbite and hypothermia If people are caught unprepared. To prepare for the cold, the NWS says people should:

  • Check the forecast to know when to expect cold weather
  • Adjust their schedule if possible to stay out of the cold
  • Make sure pets have plenty of food and are not overly exposed to extreme cold
  • Fill up the tank in the car to make sure they can stay warm if stranded
  • Take precautions to make sure their water pipes don’t freeze
  • Dress for the outdoors even if they don’t expect to be out much
  • Update their winter survival kit for their home and car.

The Marion County Health Department said time spent outside should be limited when temperatures drop below freezing. While outside, people should cover exposed skin as much as possible.

“Serious health problems such as hypothermia and frostbite can result if a person is exposed to cold temperatures for a long period of time,” said Virginia A. Caine, M.D., director and chief medical officer of the Marion County Public Health Department. “It is especially important for the very old and very young to be in a warm place.”

Frostbite can happen within minutes. If people suspect frostbite, they should head to a heated location and begin warming up using warm water or body heat, seeking medical attention for severe frostbite. Indicators for frostbite include

  • First degree: Ice crystals are forming on your skin.
  • Second degree: Skin begins to feel warm even though it is not yet defrosted.
  • Third degree: Skin turns red, pale or white.
  • Fourth degree: Pain lasts for more than a few hours and skin may develop dark blue or black. See a doctor immediately if these symptoms arise. Gangrene is a real threat.

Hypothermia can happen even in temperatures as warm as 60° F, particularly in water if outside for a long time not dressed for the weather. The NWS says hypothermia kills about 1,300 people every year. To prevent hypothermia, the NWS suggests the following tips:

  • Dress in layers.
  • Wrap up well when going outside in the cold.
  • Avoid breezes and drafts indoors.
  • Eat nutritious food and wear warm clothes to ward off winter chill.
  • Wear a warm hat in the winter.
  • Eat hot foods and drink warm drinks several times during the day.
  • If you live alone, ask a family member or neighbor to check on you daily or have a camera installed that a family member can view on their computer.
  • Ask your doctor if any medicine you’re taking increases your risk of hypothermia. Drugs that may cause a problem include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, chlorpromazine, reserpine, and tricyclic antidepressants.

The Marion County Health Department said infants younger than a year old should never sleep in a cold room because they lose body heat easier than adults. They are also unable to create heat by shivering.

Infants should have a warm room for sleeping and be dressed in warm clothing. The department warns against using extra blankets or soft bedding because it increases the risk of smothering.

People should also check on older relatives or neighbors and those with special needs to make sure they have adequate heat.