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posted: 1/6/2014 10:36 AM

Simple tips to survive the bitter cold

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Submitted by Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital

Midwesterners are quite used to Mother Nature's fickle ways during the winter, but with this week's extreme temperatures, a medical expert from Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital shares tips to stay safe.

While staying inside under a blanket sounds ideal, most of us need to go outside to run errands or head to work. When spending time outside in subzero temperatures, Dr. Melinda Einfalt, an internist at Good Shepherd, advises the following:

"One of the most important things can do in weather like this is to limit the amount of time you are exposed to the elements," says Dr. Einfalt. "Try not to be outside any longer than 20 minutes since any longer and you risk frostbite."

A few tips to help cope:

• Cover yourself completely to limit the amount of skin exposed to the elements. Make certain to cover your head, face, neck and hands, where most of your body heat can escape.

• Layer your clothing. Thermal underwear is always a good choice, as are sweaters and double layers of heavy socks. For outer layers, make certain you wear a heavy material, such as wool or down.

• Overexertion can be dangerous. When you do too much, your body heats up, naturally sweating to cool itself down. This added wetness can be extremely dangerous in low wind chills, adding to the risk of frostbite and hypothermia.

If your head or feet get wet, your body will lose heat much faster. Layers help to protect against wetness, as you can remove a top layer if it gets wet to avoid soaking through to the clothing nearest your body.

• Avoid drinking alcohol since it can only make you think you're warm. When you drink, it dilates the peripheral blood vessels near your skin, which means more blood -- and heat -- flows to these vessels away from the core of your body.

"If you notice any areas of your skin that have changed color -- white, gray or yellow -- you may have frostbite," Dr. Einfalt says. "The majority of frostbite can be successfully treated when caught in time, so get to your doctor immediately."

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