In hypothermia, the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing the core body temperature to fall below 95° F (35° C).Hypothermia can result from exposure to cold
air or water temperatures, or both. Just as with heat-related illnesses, the air or water temperature does not have to be extreme (e.g., below freezing) for hypothermia to occur. Prolonged exposure to cold, wet or windy conditions and wet clothing increase risk for hypothermia, even at moderate environmental temperatures. As with heat-related illnesses, children and older adults are especially susceptible to hypothermia.
Hypothermia can be fatal if the person does not receive prompt care.
Signs and Symptoms of Hypothermia
A person who has hypothermia may seem indifferent, disoriented or confused. You may notice that the person has a “glassy” stare. Initially, the person may shiver, but as the hypothermia progresses, the shivering may stop. This is a sign that the person’s condition is worsening and he or she needs immediate medical care. In advanced cases of hypothermia, the person may become unresponsive, and his or her breathing may slow or stop. The body may feel stiff because the muscles became rigid.
Dressing for Cold Weather
Dressing in layers can help to protect you from illness as a result of exposure to cold external temperatures.
The first layer, called the base layer, is next to your skin. The base layer helps to regulate your body temperature by wicking perspiration away from your skin.
This is important because if perspiration gets trapped inside your clothes, you can become chilled rapidly, which can lead to hypothermia. The fabrics that are best at wicking sweat away from the skin are silk, merino wool and certain synthetics.Cotton is not a good choice because it traps moisture, rather than wicking it away.
The job of the middle layer is insulation. This layer keeps you warm; it helps you retain heat by trapping air close to your body. Natural fibers, such as wool and goose down, are excellent insulators. So is synthetic fleece. Vests, jackets and tights are examples of clothing that can be worn for insulation.
The shell or outer layer protects you from wind, rain or snow. For cold weather, the shell layer should be both waterproof and “breathable.” This will keep wind and water from getting inside of the other two layers while allowing perspiration to evaporate. The shell also should be roomy enough to fit easily over the other layers without restricting your movement.
In addition to layering your clothes, wear the following to stay warm in cold weather:
First Aid Care for Hypothermia
Call 9-1-1 or the designated emergency number immediately for any case of hypothermia. If the person is unresponsive and not breathing or only gasping, give CPR and use an automated external defibrillator (AED) if you are trained in these skills.
Raising the body temperature must be accomplished gradually. Rapid rewarming (for example, by immersing the person in a hot bath or shower) can lead to dangerous heart rhythms and should be avoided. To gradually rewarm the person, gently move the person to a warm place.
Remove any wet clothing, dry the person, and help the person to put on dry clothing (including a hat, gloves and socks).Then wrap the person in dry blankets and plastic sheeting, if available, to hold in body heat. If you are far from medical care, position the person near a heat source or apply heating pads or hot water bottles filled with warm water to the body. If you have positioned the person near a heat source, carefully monitor the heat source to avoid burning the person. If you are using heating pads or hot water bottles, wrap them in thin, dry cloths to protect the person’s skin.
If the person is alert and able to swallow, you can give the person small sips of a warm, non-caffeinated liquid such as broth or warm water. Continue warming the person and monitor the person for changes in condition (including changes in breathing or level of consciousness and the development of shock) until EMS personnel arrive.
Myth-Information.Myth: Giving a person with hypothermia an alcoholic drink can help the person to warm up.Never give alcohol to a person who has hypothermia. Although alcohol may temporarily make the person feel warmer, it actually increases loss of body heat. You should also avoid giving a person who has hypothermia beverages containing caffeine, because caffeine promotes fluid loss and can lead to dehydration.