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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The cold air itself can be dangerous, but how you warm up after being in the cold is just as important.

Dr. Cari Dillard, an Emergency Department physician at Forsyth Medical Center, warns that rapid temperature changes can be harmful to one’s body.

“Slower is better,” she said. “You don’t want to go from extreme to extreme.”

To warm your body back up after being in the cold, Dillard recommends a few steps.

“You want to make sure that you’re in a warm area with warm air,” she said. “And then, also, warm fluids as far as getting in a warm tub. You don’t want it to be hot. The whole idea is to gently warm the skin, so you don’t want to shock the toes or the fingers by getting in a hot tub. But a warm shower, or warm water under the sink.”

Warm beverages can be beneficial to warm up for multiple reasons.

“You want to make sure that you stay hydrated, and also make sure that you’re taking in plenty of calories,” she said. “Hot chocolate is fine, something sweet that’s also got some calories to it is a good idea.”

Lastly, Dillard said that changing clothes once inside is important in getting warm quickly.

“It is really important to remove those outer layers that are also chilled, because otherwise you just insulate yourself from the warm air in your home,” she said. “You want to make sure that you take off that layer, put back on warm clothes and therefore you can make sure that you have a nice, warm layer next to your skin.”

Dr. Dillard warns that failing to warm up slowly could cause shock to your body, or in the worse cases, a heart attack.

She said the temperature does not have to be below zero to cause permanent damage to your body.

“It doesn’t need to be that cold,” she said. “Certainly freezing temperatures or below and I think we’re at single digits or teens today. You can certainly see a loss of fingers of toes in a short amount of time with an exposure on a day like today.”

Dr. Dillard said those with thinner skin, particularly infants and the elderly, or those with health problems such as diabetes, are at particular risk to skin damage from exposure to the cold.