Hypothermia is a medical emergency that’s brought on by cold temperatures, whether through the air or via contact with cold water. About 1,250 Americans die every year from hypothermia although most instead recover from the experience with few or no ill effects.
However, it’s important to immediately rectify the situation once it’s discovered. Doing so includes determining if the temperature for hypothermia has been reached. The exact hypothermia temperature depends on a number of factors and varies from person to person, but if the thermometer shows that the mild hypothermia body temperature is generally reached once it drops to 95 °F.
What is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia occurs when the body gets colder than normal, to the degree that it’s losing heat faster than it can produce it. This can result from either prolonged exposure to somewhat cold temperatures or exposure of shorter duration to extremely cold temperatures. You can verify it with the
Note that water is a very effective conduit for transferring heat away from your body; heat loss from liquid exposure occurs at a rate that’s 25 times that of cold air of the same temperature.
Symptoms of Hypothermia
How can you tell if someone is suffering from hypothermia? They will likely exhibit one or more of the following symptoms.
Excessive shivering will occur unless the victim is a baby as babies have not yet developed the energy resource necessary to shiver. Shivering is quite useful as it generates heat for the body at a rate that’s 2-5 times as much as is normally the case.
Note that if a person has transitioned from excessive shivering to no longer shivering while still being exposed to the cold, that is extremely worrying as that means that their heat regulation system is no longer working.
The individual will also experience slow and shallow breathing. Sometimes, the breathing can be so slow and shallow that it may be imperceptible without close observation. A weak pulse can result as well, so weak that it can oftentimes appear like there is none.
Mumbling or slowed speech may indicate that the sufferer no longer has the energy to talk normally. Clumsiness and stumbling can occur as well as the body weakens from its exposure to the cold. The person suffering from hypothermia will also be apt to get sleepy and want to sleep despite the dangerous conditions.
In fact, one of the most disturbing effects that hypothermia can have on the mind is confusion. This can even be exhibited by the individual engaging in paradoxical undressing, removing their clothes despite the cold conditions that caused the hypothermia to occur having not ceased.
The person suffering from this will believe that this will help their condition when this is far from the truth. In fact, it’s believed that between a fifth and a half of all hypothermia-related deaths have resulted from paradoxical undressing.
Causes of Hypothermia
Several possible causes of hypothermia exist.
The individual being in the cold for longer than is safe is one of the most common. This time frame will depend on how cold it is and how protected the individual is for those conditions. If the individual is experiencing wet conditions, either through a rainstorm with temperatures near the freezing mark or while enduring a snowstorm, that will exacerbate the situation considerably.
Falling into water will often cause hypothermia, especially since the temperature of the water doesn’t need to be all that cold to cause hypothermia to set in. However, the colder the water, the more serious the situation. Some of the most dangerous hypothermia-related situations have resulted from people walking on ice that wasn’t as thick as they had believed, and it cracked and broke, causing them to fall into the water.
However, many of these situations will not cause hypothermia if the individual can be easily and quickly moved to a warm, dry location, but that’s not always possible or done by choice if the sufferer is no longer of sound mind.
Hypothermia can also result from being indoors if those conditions are especially cold due to cold conditions outside combined with poor or nonexistent heating conditions inside or excessive use of an air conditioning system. Note that both babies and the elderly are especially susceptible to experiencing hypothermia in this manner with the temperature not necessarily needing to be all that cold to suffer from this. Some cases of hypothermia have been reported in 60-degree homes.
Risks of Hypothermia
As noted above, age can be a factor if the person is a baby or an elderly person due to the worsened ability of the body to produce as much heat as is necessary when temperatures drop.
Another factor is poor mental ability, which can be the result of mental illness or exhaustion through doing something like excessive physical activity or suffering from a lack of sleep. Since hypothermia can be difficult for the person suffering from it to detect, even if they entered the situation of sound mind, someone who has entered it with an impaired mindset will be further disadvantaged.
Some medications can also negatively impact a person’s ability to accurately read the situation or respond to it. These include anaesthetics, sedatives, clonidine and opioids.
Also, if the person suffers from dementia or more serious mental conditions, they may not be able to properly dress for the conditions despite it being obvious to most others what should be worn when going outside in that weather. They will also be more apt to get lost while in these challenging conditions.
Alcohol is one of the most significant risk factors for hypothermia as it negatively impacts the user’s ability to feel cold as it makes the user feel much warmer than they actually are. Those with alcohol in their system are also more likely to lose consciousness.
Some medical conditions can increase the risk of hypothermia. These include anorexia nervosa, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, sepsis, spinal cord injury, hypoglycemia and hypothyroidism.
What Body Temperature is Considered as Hypothermia?
Although the average normal temperature for a person is 98.6 degrees, some variation exists between individuals with some experiencing a normal-for-them body temperature as low as 96 degrees. However, anything below that should be considered as, at a minimum, mild hypothermia.
According to the hypothermia temperature chart, when the body temperature is between 90-95 degrees, symptoms can include shivering, rapid breathing, impaired judgment and fatigue. Conversely, if the temperature has dropped to between 82.4 and 90 degrees, causing moderate hypothermia, these signs will evolve to a cessation of shivering and the start of slower heart and breathing rates, a possible irregular heartbeat and an impairment of their reflexes. Severe hypothermia results when the body temperature drops below 82.4 degrees. Breathing becomes especially labored at this point, and serious conditions such as heart failure can occur.
How to Prevent Hypothermia
Head online or otherwise check the weather conditions, paying particularly close attention to the wind as the wind-chill factor is a significant factor in whether hypothermia will develop. Dress for the conditions and, even more importantly, for how long you’re expecting to be in those conditions. Pay especially close attention to your head, face and neck as these are the areas of the body where body heat escapes the most. It’s best to wear wool, silk or polypropylene next to your skin and tightly woven, water-repellent materials for the outer layers to protect against rain/snow and wind. Avoid cotton as it absorbs and retains a considerable amount of liquid.
As soon as you return, remove any wet clothes. If your clothes get wet while you’re outside, get yourself to warmer conditions as quickly as possible. Take note that you want to limit your time in colder conditions if you’re expecting to sweat a lot and cause wet clothes in that manner.
When you’re staying indoors, ensure that your home is heated to around 69 degrees.
How to Treat Hypothermia
Of course, move the person to warmer conditions as quickly as possible. With that said, be gentle. Avoid jarring movements, and don’t massage or rub the person who is suffering from this. Remove wet clothes. Cut them off if it’s proven impossible to remove normally without causing excessive movement. Cover the person with blankets or similar items, as thoroughly as possible with the exception of the face. Focus on warming the core of the body, not the arms or legs as the latter can push cold blood towards the heart. Provide them with warm nonalcoholic, noncaffeinated beverages; alcohol and caffeine speed up heat loss despite giving the impression that the opposite is occurring.
Importance of Hypothermia Education
Hypothermia is a serious condition that’s often brought on without the sufferer realizing what’s happening. Its seriousness is hampered by hypothermia’s effect on the brain, sometimes even causing the sufferer to remove clothes in frigid conditions. For these reasons, it’s important to educate yourself and others on the warning signs of it and, when possible, to effectively prepare for cold conditions while the mind is still sharp.