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Health Team

Frostbite, hypothermia can come quickly with frigid temps

Posted February 18, 2015

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— North Carolina residents are familiar with frostnip, when ears, noses and fingers start to go numb, but with unusually cold temperatures in the forecast Wednesday and Thursday night, frostbite could be a concern for anyone who has to spend extended periods of time outside. 

"It's going to be quite different," Dr. Mike Azrak, a physician at Rex Hospital, said of the forecast. 

Azrak says frostnip doesn't create long-term damage as long as people suffering from cold get to a warm place quickly. 

But if they don't, frostbite can set in and cause long-lasting issues. Frostbite goes deeper into the skin, and in frigid conditions, it doesn't take long to set in. 

"You may be able to see something within 30 minutes with exposed skin, early frostbite changes with tissue damage," he said. 

Wet clothing and skin can speed up the chilling process. 

"It's different with kids, different with older people," he said. "Certain people on different medications put you at a higher risk for cold-related injuries."

When frostbite is a concern, so is hypothermia, when the body temperatures drops below 95 degrees. 

As the body gets colder, blood rushes away from the limbs and the head to warm the body's core. Symptoms include shivering, confusion and tiredness. 

"The first thing you'll see is shivering, and that's the body trying to generate heat," Azrak said. "Muscles contract to generate heat."

If body temperatures drop into the 80s, heart problems leading to comas can occur. 

Anyone who has to spend time outdoors on the final two days of the work week should cover as much skin as possible with multiple layers.

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