Extreme Cold (Hypothermia)
Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia (hi-poe-THUR-me-uh) occurs as your body temperature passes below 95 F (35 C).
When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs can't work normally. Left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and to death.
Hypothermia is most often caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in a cold body of water. Primary treatments for hypothermia are methods to warm the body back to a normal temperature.
Signs and symptoms of mild hypothermia include:
· Faster breathing
· Trouble speaking
· Slight confusion
· Lack of coordination
· Increased heart rate
Moderate to severe hypothermia
As your body temperature drops, signs and symptoms of moderate to severe hypothermia include:
· Shivering, although as hypothermia worsens, shivering stops
· Clumsiness or lack of coordination
· Slurred speech or mumbling
· Confusion and poor decision-making, such as trying to remove warm clothes
· Drowsiness or very low energy
· Lack of concern about one's condition
· Progressive loss of consciousness
· Weak pulse
· Slow, shallow breathing
Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it produces it. The most common causes of hypothermia are exposure to cold-weather conditions or cold water. But prolonged exposure to any environment colder than your body can lead to hypothermia if you aren't dressed appropriately or can't control the conditions.
Specific conditions leading to hypothermia include:
· Wearing clothes that aren't warm enough for weather conditions
· Staying out in the cold too long
· Unable to get out of wet clothes or move to a warm, dry location
· Accidental falls in water, as in a boating accident
· Inadequate heating in the home, especially for older people and infants
· Air conditioning that is too cold, especially for older people and infants
· Be gentle. When you're helping a person with hypothermia, handle him or her gently. Limit movements to only those that are necessary. Don't massage or rub the person. Excessive, vigorous or jarring movements may trigger cardiac arrest.
· Move the person out of the cold. Move the person to a warm, dry location if possible. If you're unable to move the person out of the cold, shield him or her from the cold and wind as much as possible.
· Remove wet clothing. If the person is wearing wet clothing, remove it. Cut away clothing if necessary to avoid excessive movement.
· Cover the person with blankets. Use layers of dry blankets or coats to warm the person. Cover the person's head, leaving only the face exposed.
· Insulate the person's body from the cold ground. If you're outside, lay the person on his or her back on a blanket or other warm surface.
· Monitor breathing. A person with severe hypothermia may appear unconscious, with no apparent signs of a pulse or breathing. If the person's breathing has stopped or appears dangerously low or shallow, begin CPR immediately if you're trained.
· Share body heat. To warm the person's body, remove your clothing and lie next to the person, making skin-to-skin contact. Then cover both of your bodies with blankets.
· Provide warm beverages. If the affected person is alert and able to swallow, provide a warm, sweet, nonalcoholic, noncaffeinated beverage to help warm the body.
· Use warm, dry compresses. Use a first-aid warm compress (a plastic fluid-filled bag that warms up when squeezed) or a makeshift compress of warm water in a plastic bottle or a dryer-warmed towel. Apply a compress only to the neck, chest wall or groin.