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What Is Frostbite, How Do We Treat It?

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(credit: CBS) Natalie Nyhus
Natalie Nyhus joined the WCCO-TV team in January of 2011. She repor...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Twin Cities was pounded by several inches of snow on Wednesday, and now cold temperatures and freezing wind chills are arriving behind it to mark an early arrival for winter.

High temperatures will be in the single digits the rest of the week and the wind chill will make it feel well below zero. With that comes the increased danger for frostbite. It’s brutal, and even dangerous. We hear a lot about frostbite in the winter, and we wondered what exactly is it?

According to Dr. Bjorn Peterson from Regions Hospital, frostbite is the actual freezing of the body’s tissue.  The water inside of the cells actually freezes and turns into ice crystals. Those can then expand and damage the cells and cause injuries similar to heat burns.

But how do you know if you have frost bite or are just really, really cold?

“Big signs of frostbite is that the skin turns white. It can turn pink, red purple. It gets cold, waxy or numb. You can get a pins and needles feeling, it can get hard,” Peterson said. “It’s pretty obvious. It hurts, affected areas get hard and cold.”

If you think you have frost bite, here’s how to treat it without doing more harm to your body. The first thing sounds simple, but you should get out of the cold. Also, Take off any wet clothing and get dry clothes on. Lastly, warm the affected tissue with warm water, not hot water.

When you have frostbite, your nerve endings can be damaged so if you use hot water, you could end up burning yourself too. How long does it take to set in?

Dr. Peterson said frostbite can take just minutes to develop when the wind chill is below zero, so it’s something to be aware of.

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