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Dakota and Minnesota parts called up to -27 degrees F this week, according to the National Time Service. It's not just uncomfortable – this kind of cold can be dangerous and even deadly, especially if you don't take precautionary measures, how long you are, and how you dress.
"I've seen patients freezing in about 10 to 15 minutes after they are exposed to these extreme temperatures," Dr. Jeff Schaider tells NPR Ari Shapiro about Taking into account all the circumstances. Schaider is Chief of Emergency Medicine H. Stroger Jr. Hospital in Chicago and Head of Emergency Medical at the Cook County Health Care Center.
Just short walks outside the cap can make someone frostbite on the back of an unprotected ear, he says.
Cold damage to the skin and underlying tissues is the most common type of damage caused by severe cold and usually occurs on the extremities of the body – fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin.
Damaged skin usually white, waxy or grayish-yellow at the beginning, Schaider says, and is cold and numb. If you notice these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider. If the condition is caught early, permanent damage can be prevented. If not, freezing can progress and cause need amputation.
An even more dangerous reaction begins when the internal body temperature drops significantly, in a condition called hypothermia. Initially, when you are exposed to the cold, Schaider says you will tremble and it may be beneficial to try to heat you. But, as hypothermia progresses, your body the cold response is actually decreasing.
"You stop shaking, and then your body temperature will start to drop faster," he explains. The body gets colder and moves slower. Your mind thinks slower. Your heart moves slower. And when the time goes on, he says you are confused. You can go to a coma or even die.
So – how do you protect yourself from the worst places? First, anticipate potential problems. Check local news sources to update weather warnings and stay inside unless you definitely need to. If you have to go, use levels of protection that match your level of activity. (The Appalachian Mountain Cold Weather Authority has some specific tips.)
And if you're driving a car, Schaider says make sure you put on extra clothes, blankets, extra hat and extra gloves (best) – just if something happens to your car.
He also recognizes that drinking can affect your judgment and physiology.
"People who go out and drink can walk outside because they don't feel cold when they're intoxicated."
They can be exposed to cold for longer than safe ice climates, he says, and their body temperature will start to fall.