Freezing winter temperatures are quickly upon us, but most Minnesotans, through years of practice and experience, know how to beat the cold.

Nonetheless, deaths and injuries occur every winter because people fail to take simple precautions. Carelessness, overconfidence and ignorance can lead to frostbite and hypothermia.

Whether at work or play, take preventive action to deal with extreme winter weather-related problems.

The most important preventive measure is how you dress. Staying dry is as important as staying warm. Cover as much skin as possible and dress in light layers. First, with long underwear to keep the moisture away from the body, an inner layer to provide insulation, and finally an outer layer made of wind and moisture resistant fabrics to keep you dry.

Remember to take extra care of fingers and toes by wearing an extra pair of socks and wearing boots. Choosing mittens over gloves will keep your fingers warmer and wearing a hat is essential in cutting body heat loss.

Anyone who is exposed to freezing cold for a prolonged period of time can get frostbite, an injury to the body that is caused by freezing.

Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation.

The first symptoms of frostbite are a "pins and needles" sensation followed by numbness. Frostbitten skin is hard, pale, cold and has no feeling. When skin has thawed out, it becomes red and painful (early frostbite).

With more severe frostbite, the skin may appear white and numb (tissue has started to freeze). Very severe frostbite may cause blisters, gangrene (blackened, dead tissue), and damage to tendons, muscles, nerves and bone.

If any of the signs of frostbite appear, get into a warm room as soon as possible. Immerse the affected area in warm water. Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.

A person with frostbite on the extremities may also be subject to hypothermia, an abnormally low body temperature. When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced.

Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body's stored energy. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well.

This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it's happening and won't be able to do anything about it.

Warning signs of hypothermia may consist of shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. If you notice any of these signs, take the person's temperature. If it is below 95 degrees, get medical attention immediately.

Don't let Jack Frost nip at your nose. When it's cold outside, taking preventive action is your best defense at reducing the risk of weather-related health problems.