In-depth interview: Dr. Dylan Wyatt on frostbite

When winter winds rage and temperatures drop, living in the northland can become dangerous. These below zero temps and bitter wind chills can cause frostbite in a matter of minutes.

We sat down with WDIO’s Doctor Dylan Wyatt, an emergency room physician at St. Luke’s hospital to discuss what frostbite is, what the warning signs are and how to prevent and treat it as we grin and bear it through these cold conditions.

Dr. Dylan says it’s critical to slowly warm up the frostbite, especially in the beginning phases. He says stage one and stage two frostbite usually results in full recovery if treated properly. Here’s how he says frostbite begins.

“You begin to lose your circulation. When we get to that point, we really have to take more active warming measures, a lot more of that kind of core cool to lukewarm to warm water. You never want to put frostbite in hands or feet or anything right into hot liquids that will cause incredible damage. And then even third and fourth degree when we get to that degree of frostbite, that’s almost certainly going to mean staying in a hospital.”

Dr. Dylan says most of us who live in this part of the country are generally well-educated about frostbite, so hospitals don’t see as many cases as we might think.

“I would say that it’s surprisingly less common than one would think up here in the northland. People do a pretty good job of mitigating for it, but we definitely still see it.”

We asked him the questions we think most people want to know. Questions such as, how do you spot the onset of frostbite? When do you know if it’s serious and how do you treat it? One answer in particular surprised us.

“What causes the damage isn’t necessarily the cold itself, it’s the re-warming process afterwards.”

Dr. Dylan advises to avoid that cold, hot, cold, hot as much as possible. He says if a patient does come to the hospital with frostbite, the warm inidoor air will in itself help bring the patient’s core body temperature up.

“They’re going to be coming into the warm air and they’re going to continue to be warm afterwards indoors. We would begin a slower warming process depending on the degree of frostbite. If it’s first stage, we just begin with cool or lukewarm water or hot packs really wrapped up very, very well in blanket.”

In more advanced stages however, Dr. Dylan says other treatment approaches become necessary.

“We’re probably going to need to give anticoagulation medications. there’s going to be a very complex process in trying to salvage whatever is frostbitten.”

Dr. Dylan elaborated on these and other frostbite related questions during our full interview with him. Click below.

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For more winter safety tips, visit the Storm Track Winter Weather Guide at