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Parts of the Dakota and Minnesota sank to -27 degrees Fahrenheit or lower this week, according to the National Weather Service. Not only is this uncomfortable – this type of cold can be dangerous and even deadly, especially if you do not take precautions, how long you are traveling and how to dress.
"I've seen that patients have frostbite within about 10 years 15 minutes after being exposed to these extreme temperatures," Dr. Jeff Schaider vs. NPR's Ari Shapiro on All Things Considered . Schaider is a chief physician for emergency medicine at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital in Chicago and head of emergency medicine at Cook County Health.
A short walk without a hat outside can cause frostbite to someone on the back of unprotected ears, he says.
The most common injuries are skin damage and underlying tissue caused by frostbite in bad colds and usually occurs on the extremities of the body – fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin.
The damaged skin typically appears white, waxy or gray-yellow at first. Schaider says and is cold and deaf. Consult your doctor if you notice these symptoms. If the condition is detected early, permanent damage can be prevented. If this is not the case, frostbite can progress, leading to amputation.
An even more dangerous reaction sets in when the internal body temperature drops significantly in a condition called hypothermia. If you are exposed to the cold, you will shudder, and this can be beneficial if you try to keep you warm. However, as hypothermia progresses, your body's response to the cold decreases.
"They stop shivering and then their body temperature drops faster," he explains. The body gets colder and moves slower. Your mind thinks slower. Your heart is moving slower. And over time, he says, you get confused. You can go into coma or even die.
So – how do you protect yourself in the worst affected areas? Expect first possible problems. Check the local news sources for updated weather alerts and stay inside, unless you need to get out. When you need to go out, wear protective layers that match your level of activity. (The weather authorities of the Appalachian Mountain Club have some specific tips.)
And if you're traveling by car, says Schaider, make sure You should bring extra clothes, a blanket, an extra hat and extra gloves (gloves are best) just in case something happens to your car.
Also note that alcohol consumption can affect your judgment and physiology. He says.
"People who go out and drink may go outside because they do not feel the effects of the cold when they are intoxicated."
They may be exposed to cold in cold climates longer and their body temperature would start to drop.