Hypothermia is a medical emergency where every second counts to save a life.

The purpose of this article is to shed light on the causes and risk factors of hypothermia before discussing how to treat the symptoms while awaiting medical attention. It ends with what you can do after hypothermia.

What is hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a condition where our body loses heat faster than it can produce it. In other words: The body drops to an abnormally and usually dangerously low temperature.

The normal body temperature for an adult is 37°C. In cases of hypothermia, our core temperature drops below 35°C and body and brain functions begin to slow down. In severe cases, the core temperature may even drop below 27.8°C or less.

Therefore, if left untreated, there is a chance of death. However, recovery from hypothermia is possible if immediate medical attention is provided from the outset.

People who live in cold places tend to be the most exposed. The disease can occur indoors or outdoors and the risk of contracting the disease increases if we are dehydrated or tired.

A better understanding of this disease will therefore help us to prevent it, prepare for it (for example, before winter) and treat it when it occurs.

Causes and risk factors of hypothermia

Risk factors vary because they depend on certain variables. For proper treatment of a person with this disease, the most important variables are age, height, weight and body fat, and the duration of exposure to cold.

A person’s general health should also be taken into account. In the case of a healthy elder compared to a weak elder, the latter will be more vulnerable.

People with medical conditions or chronic diseases may also be at increased risk.

For example, a drop in body temperature can have alarming consequences, depending on the variables. Initially, a person’s breathing, heart rate and brain activity slow down.

For these reasons, keeping warm in a cold climate should never be taken for granted, and anyone suffering from hypothermia needs emergency medical attention.

There may be a risk for a number of reasons. Below are some of the most common reasons.

1. Cold weather/exposure to colder than normal temperatures

Hypothermia can occur in a number of scenarios, all of which have one thing in common: Cold. This is usually due to prolonged and/or unbearable exposure to the cold.

Hypothermia, for example, B. can occur if you expose yourself to cold outside or to cold bone. You can even get it if you are exposed to cooler than normal indoor temperatures (10°C) for an extended period of time.

If you fall into cold or icy water (lake, river), you also risk hypothermia because your body loses heat 25 times faster.

2. Heating error

When our bodies are cold, they automatically react by shivering. The first thing you need to do is get a heating pad (blanket, coat, scarf, heater).

In places where the weather is extreme, it’s not enough to dress normally to protect yourself. Not keeping warm is very risky because our body temperature drops quickly and significantly.

To endure the extreme cold outside, you should wear special high-tech clothing designed for windy and icy environments to prevent hypothermia, like Everest climbers.

3. Age

Anyone can get hypothermia, whether they are adults, children or the elderly. However, children and the elderly are more exposed because they are less able to regulate their body temperature. Therefore, they need to dress appropriately for cold temperatures.

4. Mental illness

A person with mental health problems such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder is unable to recognize risks in their environment (Source: https://patient.info/doctor/hypothermia-pro).

For example, a person may not realize that it is very cold, or may not understand the importance of dressing properly for cold weather, which can lead to hypothermia.

5. Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can affect a person’s psyche. An intoxicated person exposed to the cold is unable to make conscious decisions, putting him or her at risk of hypothermia.

Photo by Julia Nastogadka on Unsplash

6. Preparation

Some medications can increase the risk of hypothermia. These include antidepressants, sedatives and antipsychotics, which can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate its temperature.

Symptoms of hypothermia

The cold is a sure sign that our bodies are cold. Hypothermia begins when the chills become excessive and when these other symptoms become apparent (in adults):

  • Breathing slows down and becomes shallow.
  • Speech mumbles or becomes unintelligible.
  • Pulse is weak and sluggish.

This leaves the person confused or disoriented. He may experience drowsiness or fatigue, memory loss and loss of coordination (stumbling).

In severe cases, the person may also lose consciousness without obvious signs of breathing or pulse.

Treatment of hypothermia

Hypothermia is treatable, but it should be noted that immediate medical attention is required. A delay in medical treatment can lead to serious complications (damage to nerves and blood vessels; death or freezing of tissue; death).

What to do if you are hypothermic – awaiting medical attention?

Below are some important actions you can take:

Emergency call

If you are faced with a situation where someone is hypothermic, you should quickly call the emergency numbers for medical attention. This must be done first, as it is possible for the body’s core temperature to drop to dangerously low levels.

Keep the person warm and dry

The loss of body heat must be stopped while waiting for medical attention. You need to keep the person warm and dry so they don’t succumb to severe hypothermia.

Begin by removing all wet clothing the person may be wearing (hat, clothing, shoes, socks). Next, the person must be protected or barricaded from the cold (icy wind, icy draft).

If possible, the person should be wrapped in warm, dry clothing or blankets. However, if you have exhausted all measures, using your own body heat by hugging someone can also work.

These basic steps should help you stop a person’s heat loss until they get medical attention.

Give the person a hot, sweetened, non-alcoholic beverage

If you are helping someone who is suffering from hypothermia, you can give them a warm and/or sweet drink or soup.

However, it is advisable to avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, as these drinks accelerate the body’s heat loss.

Perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation

If you are with someone who is hypothermic and losing consciousness, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately if you have been trained to do so.

Activate HELP

Sometimes hikers or campers get lost in the wilderness or in the mountains. If this happens to you and you get hypothermia while stuck outside, don’t panic.

However, you must quickly switch to survival mode before you succumb to the disorientation of the cold. Call or signal for help, then start warming up immediately. Your primary goal is to stay warm until you reach medical help.

If you have a sleeping bag with you, put all your stuff in it and lie down in it. This method reduces the volume of air in the sleeping bag, making it warmer.

When lying in your sleeping bag, curl up in heat protection mode (HELP). This approach to body positioning reduces heat loss.

HELP protects three main areas from heat loss: the head or neck, the chest or armpits and the groin area. Stay in the area and try to stay alert until rescuers find you.

When medical assistance arrives

When medical help finally arrives, rescuers must act quickly to bring the hypothermic person’s body temperature back to the normal range.

Defendants will likely determine the severity of the patient’s condition and perform CPR if necessary.

photos by Jonnie Hill on Unsplash

What to do after hypothermia?

The easiest way is to prevent hypothermia. If you are indoors, it is a simple step to set the air conditioner to the right temperature.

When you are outside, make sure you wear appropriate and sufficient clothing to protect you from the cold. If you are a parent or guardian, make sure the people you are responsible for are also dressed appropriately.

If you are an active person or outdoor adventurer, the least you can do is equip yourself with the necessary gear and an outdoor first aid kit.

If you are immersed in cold water after a boating accident, you can also perform a HELP safety procedure to reduce the loss of body heat.

Final words

Hypothermia is preventable because there are ways to prepare for it if you know the associated risk factors and what to avoid.

It is also important to know how to recognize the symptoms of hypothermia and how to treat them in yourself and others who suffer from it.

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