OKLAHOMA - Hospitals are filling up fast during this cold and flu season because upper respiratory illnesses are flourishing in this bitter cold weather, physicians say.
Integris Baptist Medical Center, OU Medical Center and St. Anthony Hospital all said they are at, near, or over capacity.
The illnesses they're seeing range from bronchitis and COPD to pneumonia and the flu.
Doctors say cold air is less humid, which makes it harder for our lungs to function normally and carry oxygen.
Upper respiratory viruses love the cold, which can cause the airways that lead to the lungs to become irritated and constricted.
"So imagine if you're used to breathing through a hole that size and it clamps down because (the lungs are) reacting from the cold, it makes it much more difficult to breathe," said Dr. Meredith McKee, an INTEGRIS Internal Medicine Physician.
Cold air also constricts blood vessels.
Heart attacks occur more often in the morning when it's freezing.
The cold air may cause an irregular heartbeat, hypothermia - all sorts of problems that are magnified if someone has a pre-existing condition like diabetes or heart disease.
McKee urges everyone to stay inside as much as possible.
However, since respiratory illnesses are very contagious, try to avoid being close to those who are sick.
Wash your hands, wipe down surfaces and clean your home to avoid spreading an illness to other family members.