Hypothermia a Real Threat during Extreme Cold Weather
While frostbite is a more common result of exposure to cold weather, hypothermia is a real concern, as well. A much more serious condition than frostbite, hypothermia results from the body losing heat faster than it can create it. The result is that body temperature drops to dangerous levels.
With prolonged exposure to the cold, the body’s stored energy will get used up and hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature, sets in. When body temperature gets too low, the brain is affected and the victim is unable to think clearly or even move well. That makes hypothermia even more dangerous, since the person may not even know it’s happening and, therefore, can’t know to do anything about it.
The colder it is and the longer you are outside, the greater the risk, but people get hypothermia even at temperatures above 40°F. All it takes is a chill from a cold rain if a person becomes chilled from rain or sweat or even being in cold water.
How to Spot Hypothermia
The signs of hypothermia are shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. In addition, signs of hyperthermia in infants include bright red, cold skin and very low energy.
If you see any of these signs, the first thing to do is to take the person’s temperature. If it’s below 95°, it’s an emergency that requires immediate medical attention.
If medical care is not available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the following:
- Get the person to a warm room or shelter.
- Remove any wet clothing.
- First, warm the core of the body – chest, neck, head, and groin. Use an electric blanket, if one is available. Otherwise use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
- Warm beverages can help increase body temperature, but never give alcoholic beverages. Never try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
- After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket or closing, including the head and neck.
- Get medical attention as soon as possible.
People with hypothermia who are unconscious may appear to have no pulse or to not be breathing, but they are still alive. So CPR should be provided and continued while the person is being warmed, until the person responds or medical aid is available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.
Learn more about this aspect of hypothermia, and more, from the CDC Web site.