Staying safe in a deep freeze

Even a few minutes exposed to extreme cold can be dangerous

MSNBC.com—January 16, 2009

A deep freeze has much of the U.S. from the Midwest to the Northeast in an icy grip for at least the next several days. It's the coldest weather in years, according to the National Weather Service.

When the temperature drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind is 20 miles per hour or more, it takes only minutes for exposed skin to become frostbitten, explains orthopedic surgeon Dr. Edward V. Craig of Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

If you have to go outside, here's some advice on protecting you and your family from the extreme cold.

Hypothermia sets in when the core body temperature drops below 95 degrees. At that point, the brain can be affected, meaning the victim isn't able to think clearly and loses coordination. Extremities such as the tip of nose, hands, fingers, feet and toes are the most susceptible to the cold. When frostbite sets in, the body tissues actually freeze, causing ice crystals to form and damage the cells.

Young children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite, as well as people with circulation problems, such as diabetes, and those who take drugs, such as alcohol, nicotine and beta blockers, which decrease blood flow to skin.

Hypothermia and frostbite are "easier to prevent than treat," says Craig, noting that it's important to dress appropriately and protect your head, hands and feet. "If you get wet, get inside," says Craig.

Read the full story at msnbc.com.

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