Hypothermia is a lowering of the body’s core temperature, and it’s a potentially dangerous condition that can occur when the body is exposed to cold or moisture. Your body’s natural response to cold is shivering, which is a mechanism used to re-warm the body. Eventually, however, that shiver response is not enough to keep your body warm, which can result in hypothermia. When left untreated, hypothermia can be fatal.
The dangers of hypothermia set in when the body’s temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia is most dangerous when the body temp drops below 90 degrees. It can be prevented when proper precautions are taken to reduce exposure to cold. Here are a few ways to prevent hypothermia:
- Pay attention to the weather and dress accordingly. Wear layers to stay warm, with a water-resistant outer layer to help keep you dry.
- Stay dry and avoid being outdoors when it is cold and wet.
- Cover your head. Use a hat and scarf to keep your head and neck warm and to prevent heat from escaping. Wear mittens instead of gloves to keep your fingers warm. Mittens are ideal because your fingers generate more heat when they are close to each other.
- Do not overdo it in cold weather. Your body is working hard enough to stay warm. An over-exertion of physical energy can speed the progression to hypothermia.
- If you know you will be outdoors in the cold, drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and eat energy-packed snacks full of protein to give your body the energy it will need to stay warm.
- Know the symptoms of hypothermia. There are progressive symptoms of this condition, which include: shivering, slurred speech, loss of coordination, confusion, apathy and irrational behavior.
- If you recognize these symptoms in someone else, take immediate steps to treat hypothermia.
Treatment for hypothermia
If you are out with others and you notice someone displaying the signs of hypothermia, take action to prevent serious consequences, which can include death. If the victim is unconscious, seek immediate medical attention. After you have called for medical help, or if the victim is still conscious, take these steps:
- Gently move the victim indoors or to a place that’s sheltered from wind and rain or snow.
- Remove all wet clothes and replace them with dry ones.
- If the victim is alert, give him or her warm (not hot) liquids. Sugary liquids are best.
- Depending on the victim’s level of consciousness, encourage light physical movement to help the body generate heat.
- Wrap an unconscious victim in a blanket (shoulders and below), or place them in a sleeping bag to help restore body heat.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of hypothermia, do not wait to call for medical help. While you wait for help to arrive, the tips above can help lessen the severity of hypothermia and perhaps save a life. Most importantly, be smart. If it’s cold and wet outside, don’t step out the door until you’re clothed appropriately.