Hypothermia and Cold Temperature Exposure - Topic Overview
What is hypothermia?
Hypothermia occurs when the
body gets cold and loses heat faster than the body can make it.
A rectal temperature is considered the most accurate body temperature. A normal rectal
body temperature ranges from
97.5°F (36.4°C) to
99.6°F (37.6°C), and for most
people it is 98.6°F (37°C).
For information on how to take an accurate temperature, see the topic Body Temperature.
Sometimes a normal, healthy adult has a low body temperature, such as
96°F (36°C). If the person with
the low body temperature is not ill, does not have any other problems, and is
not an infant or an older adult, then evaluation usually is not needed.
What can cause hypothermia?
Hypothermia can occur
when you are exposed to cold air, water, wind, or rain.
temperature can drop to a low level at temperatures of
50°F (10°C) or higher in wet
and windy weather, or if you are in
60°F (16°C) to
70°F (21°C) water. If you have
mild hypothermia, home treatment may be enough to bring your body temperature
back up to normal.
What are the symptoms?
Cold, pale, or
Lack of interest or concern
Mild unsteadiness in balance
Numb hands and fingers and
problems performing tasks.
Shivering, which may stop if body temperature
drops below 90°F (32°C).
What can happen from hypothermia?
an emergency condition and can quickly lead to unconsciousness and death if
heat loss continues. It is very important to know the symptoms of hypothermia
and get treatment quickly. Often a hiker or skier's body temperature will drop really low before others notice that something is wrong. If someone begins to shiver violently, stumble, or
can't respond to questions, it may be hypothermia and you need to warm him or her
For information about when to seek medical care, see the topic Cold Temperature Exposure.
Who is at risk for hypothermia?
Anyone can get
Most healthy people with mild to moderate hypothermia
recover completely without permanent injury. Recovery is harder for
babies and older, ill, or inactive adults. Hypothermia can occur indoors,
especially in babies and older or ill adults that are not dressed warmly
How is it treated?
Medical treatment for
hypothermia depends on the severity of the hypothermia. Treatment of mild
hypothermia includes getting out of the cold or wet environment, using warm
blankets, heaters, and hot water bottles.
Moderate to severe
hypothermia generally is treated in the hospital, where doctors
can use special techniques to warm the core body temperature.