What Is Hypothermia?
What Are the Risk Factors for Hypothermia?
People at increased risk for hypothermia include:
- The elderly, infants, and children without adequate heating, clothing, or food.
- Mentally ill people.
- People who are outdoors for extended periods.
- People in cold weather whose judgment is impaired by alcohol or drugs.
What Are the Symptoms of Hypothermia?
Hypothermia symptoms for adults include:
- Shivering, which may stop as hypothermia progresses. (Shivering is actually a good sign that a person's heat regulation systems are still active. )
- Slow, shallow breathing.
- Confusion and memory loss.
- Drowsiness or exhaustion.
- Slurred or mumbled speech.
- Loss of coordination, fumbling hands, stumbling steps.
- A slow, weak pulse.
- In severe hypothermia, a person may be unconscious without signs of breathing or a pulse.
Hypothermia symptoms for infants include:
- Cold-to-touch, bright red skin
- Unusually low energy
How Is Hypothermia Diagnosed?
Recognizing the symptoms is the first step in diagnosing hypothermia. A specialized thermometer, available in most hospital emergency rooms, can detect very low core body temperatures and confirm a diagnosis.
Temperatures for mild, moderate, and severe hypothermia generally range from:
Mild hypothermia: 90-95 degrees
Moderate hypothermia: 82-90 degrees
Severe hypothermia: Lower than 82 degrees
Since response to hypothermia varies among individuals, temperatures may differ.
What Is the Treatment for Hypothermia?
Hypothermia is a potentially life-threatening condition that needs emergency medical attention.
If medical care isn't immediately available:
- Remove any wet clothes, hats, gloves, shoes, and socks.
- Protect the person against wind, drafts, and further heat loss with warm, dry clothes and blankets.
- Move gently to a warm, dry shelter as soon as possible.
- Begin rewarming the person with extra clothing. Use warm blankets. Other helpful items for warming are: an electric blanket to the torso area and hot packs and heating pad on the torso, armpits, neck, and groin; however, these can cause burns to the skin. Use your own body heat if nothing else is available.
- Take the person's temperature if a thermometer is available.
- Offer warm liquids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine, which speed up heat loss. Don't try to give fluids to an unconscious person.
If the hypothermic person is unconscious, or has no pulse or signs of breathing, call for emergency help right away. CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) should be given immediately.