Hypothermia: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Your average body temperature is 37 degrees Celcius. This is the optimum temperature that is said to be healthy.
When your body temperature falls below 35 degrees Celcius, you have Hypothermia.
Hypothermia is a condition and more so a medical emergency in which your body loses more heat than it can generate.
Thus the body temperature falls. If not treated timely, Hypothermia can be fatal.
What is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia is a condition where your body temperature falls down far from the safe levels to abnormally low levels.
It usually occurs in colder temperatures when the body produces less heat than it is lost.
It is especially risky for infants and the elderly.
Hypothalamus in the brain recognizes changes in temperature.As a result, it initiates the body to generate a response to counter that heat loss.
The metabolic process in cells regularly produces heat. The body loses heat mostly through unprotected surfaces like skin in the form of radiated heat from convection then conduction, leading to radiation and evaporation.
You can also lose heat if you are in direct and close contact with cold water or even the ground. You will lose more heat if you are in contact with water compared to just normal cold air. Though cold wind can also carry away the layer of warm air on your skin resulting in body health loss.
Water conducts heat from the body very easily. Therefore, there are more chances of getting hypothermia in a place with cold water.
As you lose heat, you will shiver. This muscle activity generates heat. Though, if you keep losing more heat and cannot generate enough in return, then your body’s temperature will keep falling.
The cardiac and nervous systems do not function as well in low body temperature. Hence, the blood flow to the skin is reduced to prevent heat from escaping from the body.
Though, it is directed to the kidneys, brain, heart and lungs so that electrical activity does not slow down because of the lack of heat.
However, if the body temperature keeps falling and the body keeps losing heat then eventually these organs will stop working and result in failure of the respiratory and cardiac system and eventually death.
Thus, you need to treat hypothermia timely to warm up the body to bring it back to normal body temperature.
The opposite of Hypothermia is a condition called Hyperthermia which is the sudden rise in body temperature resulting in a heat stroke.
Symptoms of Hypothermia
Your body’s first defensive action is shivering. Hence, as the body temperature falls your muscles will shiver to generate more heat.However, as the condition worsens, you will find it difficult to think properly and keep your body warm.
If your bodily activities slow down and you also stop shivering, then hypothermia maybe getting worst.
Low body temperature is always handled by body’s automatic response of shivering. Hypothermia happens very gradually so you may not notice it.However, your body will and it will start shivering in order to produce more heat the compensate for the heat loss.
As the brain and heart are most affected by the low temperature, you will have slurred speech, weak balance and coordination and slow breathing.
Your energy will drop and so will the pulse weaken. You may lose consciousness and feel drowsy.
In certain cases, memory loss may also occur.
Hypothermia can quickly turn lethal for infants hence, as soon as their skin feels cold and their face becomes bright red in color, take them to a hospital.
Causes and Risks
Exposure to very cold water and climate can cause Hypothermia.Though you can get hypothermia even if you are not necessarily in extremely cold weather.
Therefore, even if the weather is mildly colder than your body temperature and you are not covered up properly, you can get Hypothermia.
You can get Hypothermia if you do not change your wet clothes or dry yourself for a long time after exposure to cold water.If you are wearing lighter clothes and are also exposed to the cold wind and weather for a long time then you will likely get this condition. You should wear and carry clothes that are warm for the cold weather.
People go out rafting and boating. Contact with the cold water in case of falling or even being exposed to it can cause Hypothermia.
Additionally staying in a place that is not properly warmed by poor heating and also excessive air conditioning can make you sick.
Though you can get mild hypothermia depending on your health, age, body fat, a period of exposure and body mass.
An elderly person and babies can get sick even if their internal heating stops working.
You can have a worse case of Hypothermia and are at greater risk if:
You Are Considered an Elderly Person
People of old age cannot sense the changes in their body temperature that well. Neither can their body regulate temperature fastly.
Moreover if they have any other condition like Alzheimer’s, they may not be able to convey that they feel cold.
This makes them more susceptible to catch a worse case of Hypothermia.
People with mental health conditions like Dementia may not dress up properly according to the weather.
Moreover, this lack of consciousness and memory loss can make them more susceptible to wandering or getting lost without wearing the right clothes.
Other Health Conditions
Health conditions like Diabetes, Hypothyroidism and Arthritis affect your body’s functionality to regulate your body temperature. Moreover, medications like anti depressants and sedative also affect the body in the same manner.
Therefore people with these diseases are more likely to get Hypothermia in cold weather conditions.
Infants and Toddlers
Children usually lose heat more rapidly than adults.
Moreover, they may tell their parents about feeling hot but rarely will they tell their parents about feeling cold.
Neither will children themselves dress in a manner that can protect them from cold weather and water.
Therefore children are at more risk if they are left without supervision.
Use of Drugs and Alcohol
If you are intoxicated and not in your conscious state, you may lose judgment of what you should be wearing o keep yourself warm.
Therefore if you pass out in cold weather with light clothes, you may suffer hypothermia.
Moreover, alcohol expands your blood vessels. Therefore, people who drink often lose more heat from their skin than others.
This may come as a surprise because alcohol keeps you warm inside, it still causes more heat to escape the body.
Therefore, people who drink often do not even shiver to regulate their body temperature.
Your body does not tolerate cold as well when you are exhausted. Therefore, if you are tired from adventure or any other activity, you are likely to not battle the cold that well.
If you are susceptible to Hypothermia, you may also be at risk for developing other cold weather-related conditions like frostbite and gangrene.
Hypothermia will be apparent considering the weather, conditions, situation and the person’s physical symptoms.However, blood tests can further confirm its presence.
You should treat it timely so that it does not become a mild to severe case. Most people are given first aid treatment immediately.
Do’s of First Aid
What to do when a person near you is suffering from Hypothermia?
You should contact help immediately. However, in some situations, the ambulance might reach late. Therefore, till that time, you should take some measures to keep the person warm.
Firstly, help the person to move at a drier and warm place. However, it may not be possible in certain situations.
Hence, at least cover them from cold winds and put something on them to keep them warm. Cover them with blankets or warm clothes. Especially, cover their head. If their clothes are wet, you should remove them.
Keep everything cold away from them. Hence if they are lying on the cold ground, place a blanket underneath them.
You should also keep a check on their breathing patterns. If their breathing seems extremely low, then you can perform CPR only if you are trained to do so.
Furthermore, hand them some warm non-alcoholic drinks and something sugary to eat. Keep talking to them so that they stay conscious.
Dont’s of First Aid
Do not massage or rub their hands or shoulders to make them warm. Instead, be extremely gentle while holding them.
They are in a very sensitive state hence, rubbing them can even lead to heart attack. Restrict their movements and lay them down.
Do not try to give them direct heat in the form of a heating lamp, hot water bath or a heating pad.
This can adversely affect them and disturb their heartbeat in this sensitive state. Hence, avoid any direct heat.
Do not give them alcohol to keep them warm. It can worsen their condition.
Your doctor may use a hemodialysis machine. Blood is drawn, warmed and is recirculated in the body.
A solution of warm salt water is put into your veins. This helps to warm the blood as well.
They may also try to warm up your airways. This is done by administering humidified oxygen.
Preventing Hypothermia is synonymous with keeping warm.Carry and wear layers of clothes when you are going outside in cold weather.
Moreover, keep yourself covered with gloves and hats. This will prevent your body from losing heat.
Keep yourself dry and change wet clothes immediately.
Prevention is easy but it requires you to be vigilant and present.You can prevent Hypothermia by:
- Wearing warm clothes in layers
- Not over exerting yourself which leads to loss of body heat
- Avoiding alcohol before bed and on trips in cold weather
- Keeping kids inside if they feel cold or start shivering
- Dress kids in one more layer than you will put on yourself
- If you fell in water, get out immediately and change your clothes
- Get into heat escape lessening posture (HELP) to minimize heat loss
- Ensure that rooms of elderly and the infants are warm and cozy in winters
Hypothermia can get worse in a matter of time. Hence, timely treatment and first aid is necessary.
If you or your close ones suffer hypothermia, give them first aid and they will hopefully get better soon with that help.