Dr. Kevin Most: What you need to know with record cold temps

Dr. Kevin Most

Well Winter is here with a vengeance and the next few days will be very dangerous. Here are just a few points you should follow to keep yourself safe.

First is to understand this is not just another cold day in Chicago this is historic temperatures and extremely dangerous weather. The wind chills being in the minus 40-60 degrees range will cause frostbite in a matter of minutes to any exposed skin.  Think about fingers, toes, ears, nose and exposed facial skin, these are the areas of greatest concern. The normal 10-15 minute walk from the train can actually be very dangerous the next few days, waiting for a bus or a train can be dangerous


  1.      Probably the best preparation is to stay home indoors if possible
  2.      Wearing layers is key as the air between layers helps maintain heat.
  3.      The base layer should be a tight polyester, not cotton. Cotton absorbs water and thus will actually do more harm as it may keep your skin colder
  4.      Wool is a great second layer as it helps maintain heat.
  5.      Outer layer should be windproof and water proof, wool coats look nice but do not block the wind as much as we would need.
  6.      Mittens over gloves, the ability to allow the fingers to be together actually helps maintain heat as well as the ability to move the fingers helps with circulation. Making a fist in a mitten again maintains heat in the hand.
  7.      Ears must be covered, poor blood supply to the ear makes it very vulnerable to frostbite.
  8.      No gym shoes from the train, wear well insulated boots
  9.      Use a scarf to cover your face, it also helps warm air as you breathe thru it, air this cold will irritate the tubes leading to our lungs and can cause irritation and wheezing.
  10.   Make sure your plan has you outside for very short periods of times (think minutes) and that someone knows that you are out.
  11.   Make sure your car is well supplied in case it breaks down, full tank of gas, blanket, boots, water, granola bar, extra coat
  12.   If you have to wait for a train or bus plan your timing and dress right.
  13.   Consider using the hand held chemical warmers
  14.   Some people will wear plastic bags between socks to keep their feet warm, this is a good idea if your feet may get warm

Out to long, what to look for

1.)    Frost nip- skin is red, may feel pins and needles sensation- time to get in

2.)    Superficial Frostbite- Skin turns white- waxy color, still soft, can feel warm or may be losing sensation- get to warm area now

3.)    Deep Frostbite- Skin is waxy colored, pale, white. Skin is actually hard, numbness and loss of sensation occurs- emergency

4.)    Hypothermia- when we are losing temperature faster than we can maintain- shivering is one of the first signs

5.)    Other signs of hypothermia- clumsy, confusion, drowsy

What to do if you were out to long

1.)    Biggest thing is do not rub hands together, if you have frostbite, this action will cause damage to your skin, nerves and blood vessels as the cells have frozen water in them

2.)    Gradual warming is important for frostbite

3.)    Running hands under warm water is good as long as an independent person picks the water temperature to make sure it is not to hot

4.)    Do not warm your hands in front of a stove as it may be too hot and you may not have the sensation to notice it

5.)    Warm blankets wrapped around individuals is key

6.)    If you had frostbite or close, do not go back out in the cold as the second exposure can be much worse

7.)    Placing your hands under your arms is a good way to keep them warm or gently warm your hands safely.

Who is at greatest risk

1.)    Seniors are at risk as their circulatory system and nervous system are not optimal

2.)    Diabetics are at risk as their circulation is not great

3.)    Asthmatic patients as the cold air can trigger attacks

4.)    Alcoholics as their sensation and judgement are often not ideal

The big message is understand it is going to be dangerous temperature over the next few days and know what to look for and know how to treat if necessary.



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