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Rebecca Gee heads for home as she trains for a backpacking trip to Arizona while walking down Selma Avenue in Webster Groves, Missouri, on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014.

, AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Robert Cohen

Frostbite: How to prevent it — and recognize it

  • Article by: KIM PALMER
  • January 5, 2014 - 2:50 PM

Yes, we Minnesotans are tough when it comes to extreme weather. But don’t try to prove it by going without gloves on what is expected to be the coldest day in a decade on Monday.

Frostbite can develop in mere minutes during Monday’s arctic conditions, according to experts. Extremities — hands, feet, nose and ears — are the most vulnerable.

“You shouldn’t be going anywhere — even the mailbox or taking the garbage out — without a hat, gloves and boots,” said Dr. Jon Gayken, a burn and trauma surgeon at Hennepin County Medical Center. An unexpected mishap, such as car trouble or a fall on the ice, can complicate even a quick trip, he noted. “You don’t have the luxury of time in this weather, and five minutes could be the difference between having fingers and toes.”

Already this winter, HCMC has admitted as many frostbite patients as it typically sees in a year, Gayken said, and “we see more frostbite here than in northern Canada and Alaska,” where residents are accustomed to protecting themselves against frigid conditions. “People think, ‘I’m Minnesotan, I can handle the cold,’ ” he said. But 20 degrees and minus-20 degrees pose very different risks.

How can you tell if you or someone else is developing frostbite? A change in skin color — first redness, then paleness — is a clear sign, Gayken said. Skin also may itch, burn or feel numb. Try treating chilled skin in a warm, but not hot, shower. If pain or discoloration persists after a couple hours, or blistering develops, seek medical attention.

Hypothermia, or low body temperature, also is a serious risk in extreme cold, with infants and the elderly at higher risk, according to Gayken.

If you can stay indoors Monday, do it. If you must go out, bundle up. □

© 2014 Star Tribune