Medical experts talk dangers of frostbite, hypothermia in extreme cold weather

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A brutal weekend for Miami fans in Kansas City to watch Saturday’s Chiefs-Dolphins game at Arrowhead.

When the Miami Dolphins left South Florida on Friday morning the temperature was around 86 degrees. When they landed in Kansas City, the wind chill was negative six degrees.

This arctic air can take a toll on our bodies, leading to hypothermia and frostbite.

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The FOX4 Weather Team predicts we will stay below zero for at least the next four to five days, and with temperatures going nowhere but down, that can mean serious health issues.

“The time to actually freeze tissue to where frostbite begins is as little as 10 minutes,” said EMS Division Chief Nathan Hopper.

Frostbite begins as frostnip, which is the feeling of pins and needles in either your ears, nose, fingers, or toes.

If untreated, it can progress into frostbite which, at its worst, can cause your skin to peel and turn black, which means it’s dying.

“If left untreated, you could become septic and sepsis could lead to death if left untreated,” added Joe Folsom with Johnson County MED-ACT.

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Folsom said those older than 65 and younger than 18 are most susceptible.

“[It’s] just the way their body works. That’s why it’s so important when it gets this cold to check on your neighbors,” he said.

Symptoms of frostbite include numbness, discolored skin, and clumsiness. One key to avoiding it is dressing in multiple layers.

“If I’m dressed very warmly with appropriate winter clothing my body might be warm but maybe I have thin gloves, wet feet, or not so great boots — you can actually start to get really cold just at your extremities,” Hopper said. “Especially in temps this cold you can get frostbite through clothing.”

If you notice yourself developing frostbite, immediately go inside and warm up. However, make sure it’s not too hot when you warm up your fingers, toes, ears, or nose.

“Warm is okay,” Hopper said. “Hot is not good. The reason for that is your sensation is quite diminished in your hands if you’re having the early stages, so the hot will actually cause you more problems.”

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If your frostbite has progressed to peeling skin or discoloration you should immediately go to the emergency room.

Things can take a drastic turn if you develop hypothermia, which is when your body’s core temperature drops below 98 degrees Fahrenheit.

One of the first signs of hypothermia is shivering which can lead to confusion, a slow heart rate, and difficulty breathing. If you stop shivering that’s when it becomes life-threatening.

“Shivering is how the body stays warm. Without shivering you don’t begin to generate heat anymore and at that point, if someone doesn’t come to help you, it becomes a fatal condition,” Hopper said.

Caffeine and alcohol can also make things worse since both dilate your blood vessels, making it harder for your body to regulate its internal temperature.

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