Know the Symptoms, Causes and Treatment for Hypothermia
Hypothermia is a medical condition where the body loses more heat than it produces. It occurs when a person's body temperature drops below 35°C (95°F) whereas normal body temperature is around 38 °C (98.6 °F). It is normally caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in cold water. When your body temperature drops, your nervous system, heart, and other organs cannot function properly. If left untreated, hypothermia can lead to complete heart and respiratory system failure and may eventually cause death.
Signs and Symptoms of Hypothermia
Hypothermia is classified in three different stages-
Mild Hypothermia actually occurs when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees. Symptoms in this stage includes-
- Uncontrolled shivering
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Dry skin
- Fast heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Impaired memory, judgment and thinking skills
- Loss of control over body movements
- Frequent urination
- Slurred talk
This condition is when Mild hypothermia worsens and body temperature drops below 90 degrees and turns into moderate hypothermia. Symptoms in this stage are-
- Shivering stops
- Body temperature of 82–90°F
- Persistent decline in thinking ability
- Dilated pupils
- Slow breathing rate
- Slow heart rate
- Low blood pressure
Once you develop moderate hypothermia, the situation must be treated or it can continue to worsen and develop severe hypothermia. Symptoms of this stage include-
- Body temperature of less than 82°F
- Congestion in lungs
- Loss of reflexes
- Continuous decline in blood pressure and heart rate
- Heart and lung failure
Causes of Hypothermia
Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat more quickly than it generates. Mostly, hypothermia is caused due to exposure to cold weather or cold water. However, prolonged exposure to an environment cooler than your body can lead to hypothermia if you dress improperly or are unable to control the condition.
Specific conditions can also cause hypothermia such as-
- Wearing clothes that are not warm enough for the cold weather.
- Exposure to cold weather for too long.
- Being unable to get out of wet clothes or move to a warm location.
- Falling into the cold water.
- Living in a house that is too cold due to poor heating or too much air conditioning.
Risk Factors of Hypothermia
Risk factors for hypothermia include:
Fatigue-Your tolerance for cold decreases when you are tired.
Older age-The body's ability to regulate temperature and cold may decline with age. Some parents may not be able to communicate when they are in a cold place.
Mental problems-People with mental illness, dementia, or other conditions that impair judgment may not dress appropriately for the weather or may not understand the risk of cold weather. People with dementia can wander away from home, making them more likely to stay outside in cold or humid weather.
Alcohol and drug use-Alcohol can provide warmth to your body from inside, but it dilates your blood vessels, which causes heat loss more quickly from the skin's surface. The body's natural shivering response is reduced in people who have been drinking.
In addition, using alcohol or drugs for entertainment purposes can affect your judgment on whether to go indoors in cold weather or to wear warm clothes. If a person is drunk and falls in cold weather, they are more likely to develop hypothermia.
Certain medical conditions-Several health disorders affect your body's ability to regulate body temperature. Examples include an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), malnutrition or anorexia nervosa, diabetes, severe arthritis, stroke, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury and trauma.
Medications-Some medications can change the body's ability to control its temperature. Examples include some antidepressants, narcotic pain relievers, antipsychotics and sedatives.
Prevention methods for Hypothermia
You can prevent most cases of hypothermia by following methods-
- Be prepared for cold weather. Warm clothes and hats retain heat. Wear layers and prepare the body for any change in climate.
- Proper winter clothing includes mittens, raincoat or jacket, two pairs of socks, scarf and hat.
- If you get wet, change your clothes immediately. Find a warm and sheltered place.
- Keep extra things in your car while traveling. This includes clothing, food, water and blankets.
- Don't eat snow or drink alcohol. This lowers your body temperature.
- Stay active in cold temperatures to generate body heat and conserve energy.
- Keep your home warm above 68°F. Close vents and doors in rooms.
Treatment for Hypothermia
See a doctor right away if you suspect you, or someone else has hypothermia. Treatment includes-
- Get the person to a warm place as soon as possible.
- Give the person warm clothes. If the clothes are wet, take them off.
- Cover the face with a blanket or towel. If possible, use an electric blanket or heating pad.
- Rubbing feet and palm will also help in bringing up the temperature.
- Skin-to-skin contact with other people also helps in raising body temperature.
- Ask the person to drink a warm liquid. Preferably water, tea or coffee. Don't drink alcohol.
- If the person is not breathing, start CPR immediately. Stay with the person until help arrives.
- The hospital may offer other treatments. Examples are the infusion of warm fluids into the body or the delivery of oxygen.
When to see a doctor?
Call your doctor if you suspect someone has hypothermia. While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, carefully carry the person indoors if possible. Gently remove the wet clothes, and make them wear warm and dry coats or blankets.