Frostbite, Hypothermia Real Risks In These Freezing Temperatures

Dr. Deanna Lites
January 29, 2019 - 7:13 am

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DETROIT (WWJ) - With temperatures hitting below zero this week, it's not only uncomfortable to go outside but it can be hazardous to your health.

Being outside in these frigid temperatures can put you at an increased risk for hypothermia. 

"As the temperature goes down, the heat loss that we encounter if we have unprotected skin accelerates very quickly," said Dr. Sanford Vieder, an emergency doctor with Lakes Urgent Care and Beaumont Farmington Hills.

Another danger in the bitter cold is frostbite.

"The early signs are redness of the skin, a burning sensation, maybe even a loss of sensation -- and that will rapidly progress, even as quickly as 15 or 20 minutes with extreme temperatures to full on frostbite, which is actually freezing of the skin," said Vieder. 

The best advice is to limit your time outdoors and when outside cover up as much exposed skin as possible. 

A Wind Chill Warning is in effect for all of southeast Michigan from 6 p.m. Tuesday until 11 a.m. Thursday. Wind chills are predicted as low as -50 degrees in many places, including Metro Detroit. Frostbite will occur on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes, and hypothermia and death are possible if precautions are not taken.

To stay safe during the cold weather: 

  • Limit time outside. If you need to go outside, wear layers of warm clothing. Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia. 
  • Signs of frostbite include: loss of feeling and color around the face, fingers and toes, numbness, white or grayish-yellow skin, firm or waxy skin. 
  • Signs of hypothermia include: shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech or drowsiness. 
  • Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Only use generators and grills outdoors and away from windows. Never heat your home with a gas stovetop or oven. 
  • Reduce the risk of a heart attack. Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow. 
  • Check on neighbors. Older adults and young children are more at risk in extreme cold. 
  • Pets are also at risk for cold weather injuries and should be kept indoors.
  • If travel is absolutely necessary, keep a full tank of gas and an emergency preparedness kit in your vehicle. Put warm clothing, such as gloves, blankets and hats, and a cell phone charger in your kit.