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Preventing and handling frostbite

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DAKOTA DUNES, S.D. (KTIV) - Temperatures are about to take a dive, as arctic air moves into the region.

Most of us know it's important to reduce time outside when very cold temperatures and wind chills move in. But what can we do if we find ourselves in a situation where we are stuck outdoors, and frostbite becomes a possibility?

"Relying on sensation to tell you that you're in the danger zone, I think that's false, that's a falsity." said Dr. Indy Chabra, Dermatologist at Midlands Clinic in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota.

Dr. Indy Chabra said the reason why that doesn't work, is because at very low temperatures blood supply cuts off from extremities and you can eventually lose sensation, meaning you won't know that you're getting frostbite.

Dr. Chabra said exposed skin in temperatures below freezing can start to develop ice crystals in the tissue. He said signs on the skin can range, from redness to blisters, or even gangrene, that's tissue death.

The doctor said if you have any signs, the first thing you want to do is warm the area, usually in a water bath.

"Making sure it's not re-warming, it's not thawing and refreezing. Don't do that cycle, because it's the ice crystals in the cell that's doing the damage."

And what you also shouldn't do…

"Not rubbing the area, that often when you have ice crystals, that often will cause more damage to the tissue." said Dr. Chabra.

Dr. Chabra said the best solution is prevention- staying indoors and covering exposed skin when you do step outside.

Dr. Rick Colwell, an Emergency Physician at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke's, also said staying indoors is the best way to prevent frostbite.

But he said during the winter, most patients he sees with frostbite tend to develop it during an "unintended incident", like their car breaking down.

Dr. Colwell said everyone in this area should keep winter clothing-- like an extra coat, boots, socks, gloves, and a beanie-- in their emergency car kits.
But in any scenario, with very cold temperatures, always have winter gear nearby.

"If you have to go outside, you should wear layers of clothing. Make sure you cover all of your extremities, fingers, toes, your nose, and your ears, they'll get frostbite the fastest." said Dr. Rick Colwell, Emergency Physician.

Dr. Colwell said if the frostbite case is severe, it can cause permanent tissue damage.

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Leslie London

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