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Hypothermia FAQs: Symptoms & Treatment

Friday December 19th, 2014

12.19_Hypothermia_KS_PNGLife-Saving Questions and Answers

How do you pronounce Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is pronounced hi-poe-THUR-me-uh.

What is it?

Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when body temperature falls under 95°F. In severe cases, the body’s core temperature can fall lower than 82°F.

How does hypothermia affect your body?

When your body temperature drops, this affects your heart, nervous system, and other organs, and can eventually cause them to completely shut down.

What causes hypothermia?

Hypothermia is most often caused by exposure to cold weather (although not necessarily freezing weather) or immersion in cold water. However, it can also occur in homes that are not heated properly, or even by setting the air conditioning too low!

Who is most at risk for hypothermia?

In general, young children and the elderly are more at risk than normal healthy, adults. However, anyone that spends time exposed to cold weather is at risk.

What happens if hypothermia is left untreated?

If left untreated, hypothermia can lead to the complete failure of the heart and respiratory system, and will eventually cause death.

Recognizing Hypothermia

What is the first sign of hypothermia?

Shivering is the body’s first line of defense against cold temperatures, and likely the first thing you’ll notice from a hypothermia victim.

What are other symptoms of mild hypothermia?

  • Dizziness
  • Hunger
  • Nausea
  • Faster breathing
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Fatigue
  • Increased heart rate
  • Mild confusion or lack of coordination

What are symptoms of moderate to severe hypothermia?

  • Shivering may stop as hypothermia becomes more severe
  • Clumsiness and severe lack of coordination, including stumbling steps or fumbling items held in the hands
  • Slurred speech or mumbling
  • Confusion and bad decision-making, for example some victims may try to remove warm clothes as they become disoriented
  • Drowsiness and lack of energy
  • Weak pulse and shallow, slow breathing

Will someone with hypothermia know that they are in trouble?

No, not always. Victims of hypothermia may be unaware that they are suffering. They may be unconcerned or unaware of their own condition, and they may even engage in risky behavior because they are confused or disoriented.

How can I recognize hypothermia in an infant or small child?

Typical symptoms include: bright red, cold skin; very low energy; quiet or weak crying. Using a thermometer to check body temperature (under the armpit works well) is a good way to know for sure.

Treating Hypothermia

What is the first step to treating hypothermia?

The first step to treating hypothermia is to move the victim away from exposure to the elements (cold air or water). Ideally, a heated indoor space is best. But if this is not possible, a vehicle, shed, or other shelter from the wind is better than nothing.

Should I contact professional help?

Absolutely. Hypothermia can be life threatening. You should contact a doctor or other emergency medical professional immediately if you suspect someone of having hypothermia. It is better to be overly cautious when a life may be on the line.

What else can I do to treat hypothermia?

Your main goal is to warm the victim’s core body temperature. After you move them out of the elements you should:

  • Remove any wet clothing and dry the victim.
  • Wrap the victim in blankets, towels, coats, or whatever you have available. Make sure to focus on the head and torso first.
  • Electric blankets, heating pads, and hot water bottles can also help to raise a victim’s core temperature, but be sure not to burn them with items that are too hot.
  • In a pinch, your own body heat can help a victim. Gently hugging and rubbing a victim is the best method.
  • Offer the victim warm (but not hot) liquids. Avoid alcohol or caffeine, as these will only lower body temperature. Do not offer liquids to an unconscious person.
  • Offer high-energy or warm foods if the victim is responsive.

Preventing Hypothermia

What can I do to help prevent hypothermia for myself and my family?

  • Dress appropriately for cold weather. Avoid cotton (it absorbs moisture) and focus on modern, moisture-wicking materials such as gore-tex.
  • Remember to wear layers, and to keep your head and extremities covered!
  • Set your thermostat to at least 70°F during the winter.
  • Stay out of bodies of water during periods of cold weather. Being submerged in cold water is one of the fastest ways to get hypothermia.
  • Take breaks and come inside when working or playing outside in the cold for long periods of time. Warm up before going back into the elements.
  • Eat hot foods and drink warm liquids throughout the day.
  • Ask a friend or family member to check on you intermittently when you will be outside for an extended period of time. Because the effects can come on slowly, and confusion is one of the symptoms, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to self-diagnose hypothermia.
  • Keep a supply of warm blankets, or electric heating pads.
  • Keep high energy food and warm drinks on hand.
  • Ask your doctor if any of your medications or medical conditions may make you more susceptible to hypothermia. Take extra precautions if you are at risk.

 

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