Hypothermia is a type of cold injury that occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat. This results to a dangerously low body temperature of 35°C (95°F). The normal body temperature is 37°C (98.6°F). Hypothermia occurs gradually and as a result, one may not realize the effects of hypothermia in their bodies. Hypothermia is known to affect thinking, thus an individual may not realize that they need emergency treatment. Individuals suffering from hypothermia are also likely to be having frostbite, or skin and tissue damage due to extreme cold.
Hypothermia is considered a medical emergency and may lead to death if not given treatment immediately. Other complications that can arise from hypothermia include: lethargy, coma, cardiac arrest and shock.
Risk Factors of Hypothermia
Although anyone can develop hypothermia, there are certain factors that can increase a person’s chances of developing hypothermia:
- Very young (babies) or very old individuals
- Very tired
- Individuals with a chronic illness, especially those relating to the heart or blood flow problems
- Certain prescription medications
- Under drug or alcohol influence
Causes of Hypothermia
As previously mentioned, hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat more than it is produced. This can occur in any of the following situations:
- Spending too much time outdoors in very cold weather
- Not wearing appropriate protective clothing during winter
- Staying under cold water for an extended period of time, e.g. falling into a cold body of water (such as lakes or rivers)
- Being cold and wet, e.g. wearing wet clothes in cold or windy weathers
- Heavy exertion in the cold weather
- Not eating or not drinking enough fluids in cold weathers
- For babies, sleeping in a cold room
Symptoms of Hypothermia
The symptoms of hypothermia develop gradually. Individuals will slowly lose the ability to move and even think.
- Loss of coordination
- Feeling drowsy
- Feeling sleepy
- Pale and cold skin
- Uncontainable shivering (shivering may stop at extremely low body temperatures)
- Slowed heart rate or breathing
First Aid Measures for Hypothermia
The primary goal of treatment for hypothermia is to warm the body back to normal temperature.
- If an individual is showing symptoms of hypothermia, immediately call for the local emergency number.
- For unconscious individuals, check circulation, then airway and finally breathing. Begin CPR if necessary. Begin rescue breathing if breaths are less than six per minute.
- If possible, take the individual indoors to room temperature and envelop in warm blankets.
- If it is not possible to bring the individual indoors, remove the individual from the windy weather and cover the individual with a blanket to supply insulation from the cold environment. The head and neck should also be covered to keep body heat within the body.
- Once they are brought inside, remove all wet or tight clothes and immediately replace with dry clothing.
- It is necessary to give warmth to the individual. If necessary, use own body heat to aid the individual.
- Place warm compresses on the neck, chest wall and groin areas.
- If the individual is alert and is capable of swallowing, give a warm, sweetened and alcohol-free drink.
- Do not leave the person alone at all times. Wait for the paramedics to arrive.
Hypothermia is when the body temperature is dangerously low at 35°C (95°F). Hypothermia caused by the body losing heat faster than it can produce it.