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01/06/2014

Know the Signs of Hypothermia

Know the Signs and Treatment of Hypothermia

 

Hypothermia is a potentially dangerous drop in body temperature, usually caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. The risk of cold exposure increases as the winter months arrive. But if you're exposed to cold temperatures on a spring hike or capsized on a summer sail, you can also be at risk of hypothermia. 

Normal body temperature averages 98.6 degrees. With hypothermia, core temperature drops below 95 degrees. In severe hypothermia, core body temperature drops to 86 degrees or lower.

 

How Does Cold Exposure Cause Hypothermia?

During exposure to cold temperatures, most heat loss -- up to 90% -- escapes through your skin; the rest, you exhale from your lungs. Heat loss through the skin happens primarily through radiation and speeds up when skin is exposed to wind or moisture. If cold exposure is due to being immersed in cold water, the movement of waves and water can increase heat loss up to 50%. 

The hypothalamus, the brain's temperature-control center, works to raise body temperature by triggering processes that heat and cool the body. During cold temperature exposure, shivering is a protective response to produce heat through muscle activity. In another heat-preserving response, blood vessels temporarily narrow. 

Normally, the activity of the heart and liver produce most of your body heat. But as core body temperature cools, these organs produce less heat, in essence causing a protective "shut down" to preserve heat and protect the brain. Low body temperature can slow brain activity, breathing, and heart rate.

Confusion and fatigue can set in, hampering a person's ability to understand what's happening and make intelligent choices to get to safety.

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

What Is the Treatment for Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a potentially life-threatening condition that needs emergency medical attention. 

After dialing 911:

·         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.

 

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