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OSF Doctor: Beware Of Frostbite In Subzero Temperatures

Subzero temperatures with windchill values nearing -50 hit the Midwest this week.

Bundle up before going outside in the Midwest’s subzero temperatures this week. When your fingers stop tingling and the redness subsides, your frostbite is actually getting worse.

That’s according to OSF St. Joseph’s Emergency Department Medical Director Dr. Neal Rushforth.

“In temperatures this deeply cold even a few minutes of exposed skin out in the elements could develop frostbite,” Rushforth said.

He said it is “completely preventable” by limiting time outside and not leaving any skin exposed.

“No. 1, bundle up if you have to be outside. You're gonna want to make sure you have extremely warm clothing, and obviously the more time you spend indoors or in an area where you have some wind protection the better.”

Typical spots to develop frostbite are on the hands, feet, cheeks, nose, ears, and the extremities.

“Initially you're going to notice like a redness to the skin. You're going to feel some tingling and burning sensation,” Rushforth said. “Folks that are nearby are going to see that you've got kind of red flesh cheeks.”

When the affected area starts to turn white and numb, he said that is a sign of worsening conditions.

“We really worry about folks that are in the initial category where they've got the reddening cheeks and they're experiencing a lot of the numbness and pain,” Rushforth said. “That's really your body's way of telling you that you need to get inside and warm up before it's getting too late.”

There’s not a lot of treatment options other than seeking warm shelter, he said. Similar to a burn, assessing the damage takes time.

Worst-case scenario: Some frostbite cases require surgical treatment.

In the meantime Rushforth said medicines like ibuprofen can be used to treat pain and increase blood flow to the area.

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