Dangerous temps mean dangerous injuries: How to protect yourself

Just five minutes is all it takes to freeze skin and cause frostbite. The dangerous temperatures today can have lasting effects, and that’s why doctors say you need to protect yourself. Tonight, some common sense advice and some expert tips on avoiding permanent injury in deadly cold.

Even with the significant health threat looming in the bitter cold air, more than a few braved the elements today. Along Michigan Avenue, Keenan May was well prepared for his seven-block walk.

Keenan May: “Two layers of gortex and some insulative coats, and long underwear, and very warm ski mittens.”

Dr. Marco Cordero, Northwestern Medicine, emergency medicine physician: “To prevent frostbite you have to dress in layers. In between the layers, that air acts as insulation.”

The cold air wasn’t a problem for some tourists.

“I enjoy this weather because in my country the weather is hot. Same as people who go to the beach and people who enjoy the sun and the warmth, the same [with the cold] for us.”

It was a beach day for this couple who attempted to capture the dramatic lake effect fog at North Avenue. How did they stay warm?

“I’m with my girlfriend so pretty good!”

It was mostly cold and flu cases at Northwestern’s Immediate Care Center in River North, but emergency medicine physician Dr. Marco Cordero says that will change.

Dr. Marco Cordero: “We’ve seen injuries from slipping on the ice and an occasional case of frostbite, but we expect to see more today and tomorrow. A lot of times what happens they under estimate the effects of the cold, especially the wind chill factor. When it’s windy it makes you more susceptible to frostbite.”

If you have to venture out, make sure your head and ears are covered. On your hands – go with mittens instead of gloves.

Dr. Cordero: “Your fingers are together so the heat is transmitted from one to the other as opposed to being isolated.”

Even when covered from head to toe, it won’t take long to feel the pain of the early stages – called forstnip — just five minutes of exposure can lead to redness and a tingling sensation..

Dr. Cordero: “As it gets more advanced it becomes numb.”

Re-warming the skin is essential. Run your hands under warm – not hot – water for 30 to 45 minutes.

Dr. Cordero: “What you don’t want to do is rewarm the skin and go outside again because it becomes damaged. Not for at least a day or so, you shouldn’t go back outside.”

If clear blisters form, it’s frostbite — definitely time to see a doctor. And as deeper damage sets in, black blisters appear – suggesting an injury that may require amputation.

Not only is it dangerous to be outside – some habits can fire up the danger.

Dr. Cordero: “We ask people if they are going outside not to drink alcohol and not to smoke cigarettes because the cigarettes cause vasoconstriction, which constricts vessels and makes skin more susceptible for frostbite.”

If you absolutely have to be out in the elements, make sure to go inside and take a break from the cold every 30 minutes.

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