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Impending cold weather means frostbite, hypothermia risk increases

Updated: Monday, January 6 2014, 05:19 PM CST
HARRISBURG – It’s cold out, and getting colder. The below-freezing temperatures mean that frost bite and hypothermia are concerns.

Because it’s so cold, you can start getting frost bite within minutes. What actually happens to your body in temperatures like this? Let's start with frost bite.

Universtiy of Wisconsin Health Dr. Janis Tupesis said frostbite can be dangerous and even down right painful.

“The fluid inside your cells begins to crystallize and forms ice crystals and that's when you start getting damage to your tissues,” he said.

But frost bite isn't the only winter weather worry.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, on average around 1,300 people die each year from over exposure and hypothermia.

“Your body is trying to protect your inner organs, right? So it's trying to shunt blood to your inner organs,” he said. 

Doctors say the biggest problem with over exposure is most people don't know it's happening, and when they do realize it, it's often too late.

So what should you be on the lookout for?

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, symptoms like shivering, confusion, mumbling and drowsiness are all signs of hypothermia and you should get that person or yourself to someplace warm as soon as possible.

Tupesis said slow, deliberate warming is the best way to cure frostbite and mild hypothermia. Things like skin-to-skin warming or warm blankets are best, and alcohol will actually make symptoms worse.

Frost bite can set in within a matter of minutes, under 5 minutes on exposed skin in these temperatures. 

The CDC warns you to look out for the following warning signs:
-- White or grayish-yellow skin area
-- That feels unusually firm or waxy
-- Numbness

If you do experience any of these symptoms or notice someone experiencing them the CDC recommends the following:

-- Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
-- Unless absolutely necessary, don't walk on frostbitten feet or toes-- this increases the damage.
-- Immerse the affected area in warm – not hot -- water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).
-- Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
-- Don’t rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.
-- Don’t use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.
Impending cold weather means frostbite, hypothermia risk increases

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