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Doctor: How to avoid frostbite ahead of dangerous cold

Story originally published Feb. 12, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A doctor is providing a warning about dangerously cold temperatures moving into the area this weekend.

Kids and seniors are at particular risk because they’re less likely to be aware of the signs and effects of frostbite. People with circulation problems are also at great risk, including people who are diabetic or are smokers.

Dr. Matt Connelly, emergency physician with Community Hospital, reminds people that if you’re going to be outside, you need to do things differently to protect yourself.

“The biggest thing we worry about is frostbite,” Connelly said.

It doesn’t take long with temperatures in the single digits, even lower when you consider wind chill. “People are just walking the dog, shoveling, when it’s 5 degrees, 10 degrees,” Connelly said. “Frostbite can set in as little as 20-30 minutes. It’s really surprising how quickly it can happen.”

So layer it up. It’s the thin pockets of air between layers that help keep your body warmer than one big layer.

Wetness is also the enemy and greatly speeds up the process where your skin and extremities start to freeze. It’s why parents need to be especially careful with young kids if they are going to be out playing in the snow.

But, this weekend may be one for nonstop indoor activities.

“Any exposed skin, especially when it is windy, especially when it’s cold as it’s going to be this weekend, it really is key,” Connelly said.

Don’t forget, if you feel like you may have a case of frostbite, don’t massage affected areas. Use room temparature water to gently warm your hands and increase circulation.

But if it’s not getting better or there’s significant pain, it’s time to seek professional help.

“It’s just really not something to take lightly, come on in and see us,” Connelly said. “This is what we do.”

Warning signs for frostbite include white or grayish-yellow skin, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy and numbness. Because of that numbness, it’s often first spotted by someone else.

For those hitting the road, make sure you have an emergency kit just in case something happens.