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Doctors warn about frostbite and hypothermia during cold snap

By Laura Halm
Published On: Feb 17 2013 04:55:30 PM CST
HYPOTHERMIA AND FROSTBITE
BRISTOL, Tenn. -

Not only is it cold, but the wind is just adding insult to injury making it feel even colder out. When the mercury drops this low, there are some dangers. News 5 checked with doctors to learn more about the health risks from spending too much time in the winter weather.

Wind was causing the traffic lights to squeak, signs to swing, and making for a very brisk walk at Steele Creek Park for Debra Greene, "It's just harder to walk breathing the cold air and I don't want to get sick."

Inside the emergency room at Bristol Regional Medical Center, doctors usually see two big problems when winter weather is this bitterly cold, hypothermia and frostbite.

Doctor James Luna says hypothermia affects the body's core temperature, while frostbite damages the tissue. "Frostbite is a leading cause of amputations particularly in colder climates," he said.

News 5 wanted to find out just how long someone can be outside before frostbite or hypothermia sets-in and we learned there's really no easy answer. "It depends on the individual, it depends on ambient temperature. Whether or not there's a good stiff wind blowing, because the wind obviously makes things colder. It depends on how well you're covered," added Doctor Luna.

Surprisingly it's not age that puts you at risk, Doctor Luna says it has more to do with medication, alcohol, and your health.

But the best advice is simple. "Keep covered and get out of the cold when you start to feel signs or symptoms," said Doctor Luna.

Doctors say it's important to pay attention to symptoms: those include numbness, redness of the skin, shivering or slurred speech, and in some cases blistering.