By Stephanie Stahl


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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The record cold weather isn’t just uncomfortable, it can be dangerous to be outside. Doctors say it’s with prolonged exposure to the cold weather that brings hypothermia, when the body temperature drops, or frostbite, where skin freezes. The bitter cold air can also affect a person’s breathing.

People are bundled up all over the Philadelphia region, even for a trip down the iconic Art Museum steps. The record cold is bone-chilling and potentially dangerous.

“More than a few degree drop in body temperature can be a medical emergency,” said Charles Belmont, the nurse manager for the emergency department at Einstein Medical Center.

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Belmont says the biggest risks in cold weather are hypothermia, frostbite and heart attacks.

“So plan your day around outside, short bursts of exposure to the cold, dress in layers, cover all exposed skin,” said Belmont. “Really the planning aspect is your best bet.”

For some, just breathing in the frigid air can be a challenge.

Cold air can affect breathing and constrict airways that may cause coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. The Lung Association says cold air is often dry and can impact those with chronic lung diseases, like asthma, COPD or bronchitis.

It’s recommended to keep your nose and mouth covered to warm the air before it enters your lungs. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

“It’s the wind chill that really messes everything up,” said one person.

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Doctors say young children and the elderly are the most vulnerable to cold weather because they lose body heat more quickly.

Doctors say it’s fortunate that we don’t have the added burden of snow and ice which typically makes the cold weather even more dangerous with injuries from falls and shoveling.

Stephanie Stahl