Cold weather carries deadly risks, doctor shares warning signs

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - When Jack Frost is nipping at your nose, be careful he doesn't bite!

Dr. Michelle Schierling, with Stormont Vail Emergency Medicine, says extremities like fingers, toes and noses are most at risk for frost bite.

"When they start to turn white and get painful, that's a big sign that you need to get in and get warm," she said. "What happens is poor blood supply and, over time, if you stay out and get cold enough, you actually start to get crystals form in the tissues and can cause tissue death. So if your body is telling you, if you start to have pain in your fingers and toes when it's cold outside, that's when it's time to come in."

It's not just your extremities at risk in the cold. Dr. Schierling says staying out in the extreme cold also can lower your core body temperature, leading to a life-threatening condition called hypothermia.

"The hallmark of hypothermia as it's reaching a critical stage is confusion and you'll actually want to remove clothing which progresses the hypothermia quicker," she said.

More common than hypothermia and frostbite, though, are injuries from wrecks or falls related to the ice and snow.

"We see lots of broken bones...and we can see serious injuries - head injuries, broken hips - and usually it's related should be indoors and people decide to go out and get the mail or take that trip to the grocery store," Dr. Schierling said.

Stay safe by using caution, covering exposed skin and being practical.

"Stay inside and stay warm," Dr. Schierling said. "We want to venture out when it looks snowy and pretty, but when it's -10, it's not the time to head outdoors."

Cold weather also can increase your risk for a heart attack since your heart may need to work harder to keep your body warm.