Hypothermia is the term used when a person’s body loses heat faster than it can be produced. It is a dangerous condition, and people need to know about its effects, and prevention. It is also important to know who is the most susceptible, how to detect the warning signs, and how to treat hypothermia.
What Causes Hypothermia?
This condition occurs most frequently when a person is exposed to cold temperatures (although it can happen at temperatures of 40°F or more.) Under these conditions, a person’s body eventually uses up all their stored energy, and their internal body temperature begins to drop.
If body temperature drops too low, brain function begins to deteriorate and the victim becomes unable to think clearly. In a worst-case scenario, a person might simply become tired and sit down to rest…which, in extreme cases, can lead to death. This is one of the leading causes of death among mountain climbers.
Who is Most Likely to be affected?
Anyone can experience hypothermia under the right conditions, but some people can suffer the effects sooner than others, such as:
1.) Elderly people usually have less stored energy in their bodies and can quickly suffer the effects of cold temperatures. This situation becomes more critical when they don’t have adequate food, heating, and clothing.
2.) Anyone who stays outdoors for an extended period, such as; the homeless, hunters, hikers, outdoor workers, and the like, have a good chance of developing hypothermia if they do not wear the proper clothing and monitor the temperature so they can accommodate sudden drops.
3.) Although not common, babies can develop hypothermia if sleeping in a cold bedroom, because their bodies are too small to have much stored energy.
4.) Anyone who drinks much alcohol or uses drugs becomes more prone to experience hypothermia.
How to Recognize Hypothermia
This condition can sometimes sneak up on a person before they know they have a problem, but there are certain signs that need careful watching:
1.) Shivering. If a person starts to shiver after being outdoors for a while, they should take immediate steps to warm up.
2.) Exhaustion, or drowsiness. Undue or sudden exhaustion, or drowsiness, can signal the onset and should be addressed immediately.
3.) Confusion, or fumbling. As hypothermia sets in, the brain is affected and normal tasks become confusing, which can also cause fumbling fingers.
4.) Slurred speech. If anyone in your party begins to slur their words, check immediately for the onset of hypothermia.
5.) Memory loss. Memory is one of the areas of the brain that is affected by this condition and if this occurs, the person needs immediate care.
How to Treat Hypothermia
If you or any of your party exhibits any of the above symptoms, the first order of business is to take that person’s temperature. If their temperature registers below 95°, get them to emergency medical attention as quickly as possible. If their temperature is 95°, or above, or if medical attention is not available, start warming the person up using these techniques:
1.) Move the victim into a warm place, preferably a room or shelter.
2.) Remove any wet clothing they might have on.
3.) It is important to warm the center of the body first–neck, chest and groin. If possible use an electric blanket. In an emergency, skin-to-skin contact under loose coverings can serve to warm the victim.
4.) Warm liquids can help warm the victim, but be sure to avoid anything alcoholic…that acts just opposite of what the victim needs.
5.) Keep the victim wrapped in warm dry blankets even after body temperature has increased.
6.) It is always a good idea to get medical attention regardless of how well the victim seems to have recovered.
7.) If the person is comatose, or appears to be dead, apply CPR anyway while the victim is being warmed and until medical attention arrives. Hypothermia slows down all functions of the body, and with CPR continuously applied; a seemingly dead person can often be revived.
So, there are the basic symptoms and steps that should be taken if someone falls victim to this cold weather condition. Be sure to dress appropriately for cold weather and watch for symptoms. Remember, hypothermia is not to be scoffed at, and it can happen to anyone.