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Extreme cold can take a toll on the body in just minutes

Dangers of Cold Weather
Posted at 4:38 PM, Jan 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-29 17:51:51-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo.  — Parts of the Midwest, including the Kansas City metro, are bracing for some of the coldest temperatures in decades.

In some areas, conditions will feel like 50 degrees below zero. Health experts are warning people to stay indoors and watch out for frostbite and hypothermia during the last few frigid days of January.

Frostbite can start to set in just minutes after being out in the extreme cold.

"If it's zero degrees and there's 5 mile-per-hour wind speeds, it takes about 30 minutes to get frostbite," said Dr. Christine Sullivan, professor of emergency medicine at Truman Medical Center.

Multiple layers of clothing can help to keep warm, but the process of frostbite can set in even sooner if certain areas of the body are not properly covered.

"There's certain vulnerable areas, obviously our nose, our face, our ears and our fingers all should be protected," Sullivan said.

In just over 30 minutes, hypothermia can set in without people even realizing it's happening, according to Sullivan.

"As your body temperature drops, you can start to get confused, so then somebody may not realize that they're succumbing to the cold. So that's very important if you're working with coworkers outside, if somebody starts acting unusual, that may mean that they're having hypothermia," Sullivan said.

Once body temperature drops to 95 degrees, Sullivan said a person will start shivering, a sign to get warm. It becomes dangerous when a person loses the ability to shiver, Sullivan said, so if that happens, go to the emergency room immediately.

Turning to coffee and other warm caffeinated drinks is not a good idea, according to Sullivan. She said people should be reaching for water this week instead.

"Caffeine is one of those things that can act as a diuretic and make you actually more dehydrated, so stay away from caffeine, just drink some water and just stay hydrated well," she said.

Sullivan said a person who is dehydrated will feel the symptoms of cold much faster.

The best advice she can give? Stay inside if you don't have to be out. Dangerous wind chills will begin Tuesday night in Kansas City, and highs Wednesday will only reach 5 degrees.

People with preexisting medical conditions and children, who have less insulation, are at greater risk in extreme cold.