What is hypothermia? Who is most at risk? What are the different types of hypothermia? And how do you treat hypothermia? Here is what you need to know.
What is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. As your body temperature drops below 35 C (95 F) this is when hypothermia occurs. When left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to death, making it the silent killer of trauma.
The cold causes the temperature of the body’s vital internal organs to fall dangerously and eventually lead to death.
Who is most at risk?
- Older adults with inadequate food, clothing, or heating
- Babies sleeping in cold bedrooms
- People who remain outdoors for long periods—the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.
- People who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs
- People who are suffering from hemorrhagic shock (read more about the trauma triad of death here)
Types of Hypothermia
Acute or immersion hypothermia – this happens when a person loses heat very rapidly; for example, after falling into cold water
Exhaustion hypothermia – this happens when the body is so tired it can no longer generate heat
Chronic hypothermia – where heat is lost slowly over time; this is common in elderly people who live in poorly heated accommodation or in people sleeping rough
Stages and Symptoms
As a victim’s core temperature falls towards 35 degrees Celsius they will start to feel the cold and may complain about it, shivering may occur as a natural attempt to rewarm.
Mild hypothermia is generally a body temperature of 32-35C), the symptoms aren’t always obvious, but they can include:
- Constant shivering
- Tiredness, slower responses
- Low energy
- Cold or pale skin
- Fast breathing (hyperventilation)
- Mild confusion, poor judgement
Moderate cases of hypothermia is generally a body temperature of 28-32C and can include symptoms such as:
- Being unable to think or pay attention
- Loss of judgement and reasoning ,someone with hypothermia may decide to remove clothing despite being very cold.
- Difficulty moving around, clumsiness, lack of mobility
- Loss of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Slow, shallow breathing (hypoventilation)
People with a body temperature of 32C or lower will usually stop shivering completely. This is a sign that their condition is deteriorating and emergency medical help is required.
The symptoms of severe hypothermia which is a body temperature of below 28 degrees Celsius and can include:
- Shallow or no breathing
- A weak, irregular pulse, or no pulse
- Dilated pupils
- Pale or blue skin which is cold to the touch.
Someone with severe hypothermia may appear to be dead. However, under these circumstances they must be taken to hospital to determine whether they’ve died or if they’re in a state of severe hypothermia. Medical treatment can still be used to resuscitate people with severe hypothermia, although it’s not always successful.
Treatment of mild or moderate hypothermia
- If possible move the person indoors, somewhere warm and put them in warm dry clothing
- Wrap them in blankets, preferably a multi layer product, such as the Blizzard EMS Trauma Blanket, designed to reflect radiate body heat and also insulate
- Insulate the person from the cold ground
- Seek medical attention
- Do not put a hypothermic person into a hot bath, do not massage their limbs, do not give them alcohol or caffeine as this will dilate the skins blood vessels causing further cooling
Treatment of severe hypothermia
- Seek medical attention
- Handle the patient gently and with caution
- If wet and it is possible, remove the wet clothing and pat dry do not rub dry
- Start active warming by using the Blizzard Heat, or equivalent devices such as using heat pads or hot water bottles
- Insulate the face so they are breathing warm air and most importantly seek medical attention
If you want to know more about hypothermia, click here.
If you want to learn more about hypothermia as part of the Trauma Triad of Death, go to blog.