Hypothermia is the result of an extreme drop in your body temperature, usually caused by exposure to cold temperatures for a prolonged period. It can be dangerous if not treated in time. While the risk of hypothermia is at its highest during the winter, it can occur any time there is exposure to chilly temperatures during a nature walk on a cool spring day, or if you become capsized while on a boat in the summer, you can still be at risk of hypothermia.
What Causes Hypothermia?
Our normal body temperature averages at 98.6 degrees. When you have hypothermia, your core body temperature drops below 95 degrees. Severe hypothermia occurs when the core body temperature is 82 degrees or lower.
Exposure to cold is the main cause of hypothermia, but there are also medical conditions such as thyroid disease or diabetes that can cause an individual to be at risk of hypothermia.
The Symptoms of Hypothermia
Any time that you suspect that someone has hypothermia, you should call 9-1-1 immediately for medical assistance. This is a condition that can worsen quickly if not treated in time, so the sooner you get help, the better off the victim will be.
It’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms of hypothermia, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors during the winter. The top symptoms include:
- Memory loss
- Slurred Speech
- Body Temperature below 95 degrees
- Loss of consciousness
- Shallow breathing
- Numb hands or feet.
What is Hypothermic Shock?
Hypothermic shock can occur during severe hypothermia; however, it is important that you understand the difference between the two. The two conditions will often have the same symptoms and can lead to the same fatal results.
Severe hypothermia occurs when the body temperature falls below 90 degrees. Shivering may come to a halt, and that is when paralysis, an irregular heartbeat, or the inability to walk begins. Eventually, the unconsciousness can result in death. These symptoms are the same for both severe hypothermia and hypothermic shock. So how can you tell the difference?
The primary difference is that shock occurs due to trauma to the body. It can happen in any climate. Hypothermia, however, is directly related to the body’s temperature level and a cold environment.
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5 Ways to Treat Hypothermia
- Restore Warmth, But Slowly
You should do what you can to ensure the victim’s body temperature is on the rise, but not too quickly. First, try to get the person indoors and remove the wet clothing, making sure they are as dry as possible. Attempt to warm their trunk first, not their hands or feet. Warming up the extremities could cause them to go into shock. Do not place them in warm water either as that can cause heart arrhythmia. If you are using hot water bottles, or any type of chemical heating packs, wrap them up in a cloth. Do not apply them directly to the skin.
- Start CPR
If the victim is not breathing, you should start CPR while warming them up. Continue providing CPR until they begin breathing again or emergency assistance arrives.
- Offer Them Something Warm to Drink
Give the victim something warm to drink if they are conscious, but avoid anything that contains caffeine or alcohol.
- Offer a Place to Rest near a Source of Heat
Wrap the victim in a blanket and place them near a warm fireplace or another heat source. If you are outdoors, you should try to gather supplies to build a fire as quickly as possible.
- Additional Steps for Treating Severe Hypothermia
If the victim is dealing with severe hypothermia, you should handle them gently. Their skin will be very sensitive during this stage. Use something to cover their head to ensure that their temperature rises. Try to place warm objects on or near their skin, especially at the chest, neck, and head. Be sure to look for signs of shock.
Remember, the key to getting the victim’s body temperature back up where it needs to be is to get the victim out of the cold as soon as possible. Once that occurs, you reduce the risk of the victim having any further complications.