(NEXSTAR) – Being outside in the cold may not only be uncomfortable, but it can also be dangerous. Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can, in some cases, lead to frostbite.
Frostbite, according to Mayo Clinic, is an injury caused by skin and underlying tissues freezing. In its earliest stages, known as frostnip, your skin will not be permanently damaged. But, as the condition worsens, skin can become hard or waxy-looking.
Skin that is exposed to cold, windy weather is most vulnerable to developing frostbite. This means it’s important to consider the wind chill before you go outside on a winter’s day without dressing properly.
Wind chill is the combined effect of temperature and wind on your body. As the wind blows over your body, it causes sweat to evaporate from your skin, cooling you down.
This chart from the National Weather Service shows that it doesn’t have to be super cold, and the wind doesn’t have to blow hard, to give someone frostbite in as little as a half-hour.
For example, for someone outside when the temperature is around five degrees and the wind is at 35 mph, frostbite can set in after about 30 minutes. If the temperature drops to -5 degrees with the same wind speed, frostbite can set in in about 10 minutes.
This is why you are always cautioned to cover exposed skin to limit the impact from bitter cold wind chills.
Cold skin, a prickling feeling, numbness, joint and muscle stiffness, and skin discoloration are all signs and symptoms of frostbite. According to Mayo Clinic, most cases of frostbite can be treated by simply warming your body up. If you begin experiencing serious symptoms – blisters, losing sensation in affected areas, fever, increased pain or swelling, or joints and muscles not working – you should seek medical attention.
While wind chill can have a major impact on humans, it does not affect cars, radiators, water pipes, or homes. In other words, inanimate objects don’t suffer from wind chill, at least to the point that it is going to cause problems. This is because they don’t sweat or produce excessive amounts of moisture to evaporate.
Animals with long fur have an insulating layer between their skin and the harsh elements, diminishing the chilling effect. Still, pet experts do not recommend leaving your dog outside for extended periods of time in frigid temperatures. If they do need to be outside, you are encouraged to put a jacket on them or booties for their paws.