Hypothermia is a medical emergency. Your body loses heat much faster than it produces heat and causes dangerous low body temperatures. Your normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) and when your body temperature falls to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) your nervous system, heart and internal organs don”t work properly. If left untreated, hypothermia will lead to failure of your organs, respiratory system and you may die.
Symptoms and Causes
Hypothermia begins gradually and you may experience confused thoughts. This situation prevents self-awareness of what may be happening within your body. If you are able, be aware of what is happening to your body.
- Unclear speech
- Uncoordinated walking
- Inability to make decisions
- Removing warm clothing
- Low energy or drowsiness
- Slow loss of consciousness
- Weak or very slow pulse
- Shallow or very slow breathing
You do not necessary have to be exposed to extremely cold outdoor temperatures to have hypothermia. The elderly may develop mild hypothermia indoors if the heat is turned down or the air conditioning too high. Mild hypothermia symptoms are almost identical to more severe symptoms. If you are the caretaker of an older person, do watch for these same symptoms.
Hypothermia can also occur in infants indoors or outdoors. Watch for bright red and cold skin and very low energy or an infant that acts lethargic.
Prolonged exposure to environmental conditions colder than your body can cause hypothermia and additional causes are:
Wearing clothes not adequate for weather conditions
Staying out in the cold or long periods of time
Unable to get out of wet clothes and move to a dry location
Accidental falls in cold water
Wind causes hypothermia by blowing away body heat from the thin layer of warm air at your skin”s surface. Watch out for wind chill factors; they are direct factors of hypothermia. You will lose body heat very quickly when you are in contact with cold and wearing wet clothing.
Hypothermia is a cause of:
There are definite factors putting you at risk for hypothermia. Those who are 65 and older are very vulnerable to hypothermia due to the body”s temperature regulators becoming inefficient. Older people may have medical conditions affecting temperature regulations. Older adults may not be mobile enough to move to somewhere warmer or they may not be able to express their cold complaints.
Children tend to lose heat much faster than adults. Children really don”t think about how cold they are and just keep moving through icy conditions. Generally children do not have the judgment to dress properly for cold weather nor do they really care. Infants have less resourceful apparatuses for generating heat. They do get cold quickly. Forget the myth if you are warm so is your baby; this is just not true.
Those with mental problems or dementia may not dress appropriately for the weather or understand the risk of being in the cold. Dementia patients tend to wander away from warm homes and become stranded outside in cold or wet weather.
Alcohol makes your body feel warm inside but causes blood vessels to dilate or expand. This causes rapid heat loss from your skins” ™ surface. Your judgment may be impaired if you use alcohol regularly or are a habitual recreational drug user. An intoxicated or drugged person may pass out the cold and lie there for ages. Hypothermia sets in.
Medical conditions that contribute to hypothermia risks include underactive thyroid, poor nutrition, severe arthritis, Parkinson”s disease, spinal cord injuries and strokes. Almost any nerve or circulator damage can contribute to hypothermia.
Antidepressants, sedatives and antipsychotics can change the body”s temperature and cause issues with body temperature regulators.
Hypothermia can cause:
If you develop hypothermia because of cold weather exposure be aware that you may be at risk for frostbite, gangrene, chilblains and trench foot. All of these risks destroy the body tissues, nerves and small blood vessels.
Get treatment for hypothermia fast:
Limit movements to someone experiencing hypothermia to only those movements that are essential. Never massage the affected person. Vigorous movements might initiate cardiac arrest.
Move the affected person out of the cold to a warm and dry location. Shield affected persons form the cold and wind as much as possible.
Remove all wet clothing. Cut away clothing if necessary to avoid moving the patient.
Cover the person with warm dry blankets or coats. Leave only the face.
Monitor breathing patterns. If you find that the patient is not breathing you may have to administer CPR until help arrives.
Share body heat. Remove your own clothing and initiate skin-to-skin contact. Cover both of you with blankets.
Give the affected person warm beverages if you are able. Avoid caffeine however.
Use warm and dry compresses. A warm water bottle, a dryer warmed towed or a first aid warm compress applied only to the neck, chest or groin. Keep warm compress away from the arms and legs. Administering heat to the arms and legs will force cold blood toward the heart and cause the body”s core temperature to drop.
Medical treatments include blood rewarming or drawing blood, warming it, and recirculating it into the bloodstream. Intravenous fluids warmed and injected may help and airway rewarming is an option. Cavity lavage is treatment used in severe cases. Warm salt water is delivered via a small tube inserted down the throat to the stomach. This procedure can quickly heat up the body”s core temperature.
Prevent hypothermia by:
The first and foremost prevention of hypothermia is staying warm in cold weather. Wear hats and protective coverings to prevent body heat taking off from your head, face and neck. Keep hands covered with mittens (not gloves).
Avoid overexertion that causes to sweat in cold weather. Wet clothing, sweating and cold weather is a recipe for hypothermia.
Dress in layers and ensure outer clothing is made from tightly woven and water repellent material. If you are wet, get out of wet clothing as soon as possible. Brush off snow when you come indoors.
Traveling in winter and cold weather demands planning. Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to arrive at your destination. Keep blankets, matches, a first aid kit, canned foods and a can opener in your vehicle. Travel with adequate water. Maintain a good charge on your cellphone. Run your car every 10 minutes to keep warm and do keep the windows sight cracked. Don”t be a hero and try to walk and get help. You will come if you stay where you are.