Hypothermia Signs and Prevention

Posted by Melissa Hall in #YHSafetyTips, Feb 13, 2019

Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Often caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in cold water, hypothermia can lead to heart and respiratory system failure and even death if left untreated. Treatment for hypothermia involves warming up the body back to a normal temperature.

Symptoms
Shivering is your body’s first defense against cold temperature and is one of the earliest signs of hypothermia. Other symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Lack of coordination
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Drowsiness or low energy
  • Loss of consciousness

Individuals suffering with hypothermia are usually not aware of their condition as symptoms being gradually. They are also unable to recognize the symptoms of hypothermia due to the confusion brought on by the condition.

Risk Factors

  • Exhaustion
  • Old or very young age
  • Mental health problems
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Certain medical conditions including hypothyroidism, poor nutrition, diabetes, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease
  • Medications including antidepressants, antipsychotics, narcotic pain medications, and sedatives

Causes
Prolonged exposure to an environment colder than your body can lead to hypothermia, especially if you are not dressed appropriately for the conditions.

Conditions that may lead to hypothermia include:

  • Wearing clothes that are not warm enough for weather conditions
  • Spending extended time in the cold
  • The inability to remove wet clothes or move to a warm, dry location
  • Falling into the water
  • Living in a house that lacks proper heating

Treatment
If an individual appears to have hypothermia, they will need immediate medical attention.

As you wait for medical help to arrive, you can follow these first-aid guidelines.

  • Be gentle and avoid excessive or vigorous movements
  • Move the individual out of the cold
  • Remove wet clothing
  • Cover the person with blankets
  • Monitor breathing and begin CPR if breathing stops or becomes shallow
  • Provide warm beverages
  • Use warm, dry compresses
  • Do not apply direct heat

Medical treatment for hypothermia may include the following interventions to raise the body temperature:

  • Passive rewarming
  • Blood rewarming
  • Warm intravenous fluids
  • Airway rewarming
  • Irrigation

Preventing Hypothermia
Take the time to prepare your home, car, and work area ahead of winter storms. Keep an emergency kit on hand and take extra precautions during times of extreme cold.

  • Dress appropriately for the temperature. Wear layers of loose-fitting clothing - including a layer designed to wick away moisture, keep your head and neck covered with a hat and scarf, protect hands with gloves, and keep your feet dry with warm socks and boots.
  • Check the weather before heading out. Keep a stocked emergency kit in your vehicle, including a first aid kit, packaged and canned food, bottled water, dry blankets, and extra clothing.
  • Fuel your body with plenty of fluids and foods with carbohydrates to give you energy.
  • Don’t work alone. Hypothermia can impair your ability to make decisions, so working with a teammate allows you to look out for each other.

Remember, being prepared is the best way to protect yourself from the effects of extremely cold weather and hypothermia.

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