Hypothermia is a medical condition that happens when the body temperature drops below 95-degree F (35C) and the body loses heat rapidly than it produces, leading to dangerously low body temperature. The body’s normal temperature range is around 98.6 F (37 C). This condition can be life-threatening as it affects a person ability to think and act clearly and can reduce the chance of seeking medical help.
When the body temperature drops the heart, nervous system and other organs can’t function normally. If left untreated, hypothermia could lead to complete failure of the heart and respiratory system and eventually to death. The condition is often caused due to exposure to cold climates. The main treatment mode for hypothermia is to warm the body and bring it back to normal temperature.
Generally, shivering is the first sign that is observed when the temperature begins to drop because of body’s impulsive defence against cold temperature. Some of the other signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:
Slow, shallow breathing
Lack of energy
Skin colour change and cold skin in infants
A confused state associated with hypothermia averts self-awareness and this can lead to risk-taking behaviour.
The most common causes of hypothermia are exposure to cold climatic conditions or cold water. Although prolonged exposure to any environment colder than the body can lead to hypothermia if a person is not dressed rightly or cannot deal with conditions.
Certain conditions leading to hypothermia include:
Wearing clothes that are not appropriate for climate conditions.
Staying out in cold weather for a longer duration.
Unable to change wet clothes or move to dry place.
Falling into the water.
Living in a house that has poor heating or too much air conditioning.
How The Body Loses Heat?
Radiated heat is the loss of heat from unprotected surfaces of the body. When a person has direct contact with cold water or cold atmosphere, heat is conducted away from the body. As water is good at transferring heat from the body, body heat is lost much rapidly in cold water than in cold air. Moreover, heat from the body is lost much faster if the clothes are wet, as when you get drenched in rain.
The wind gets rid of body heat by carrying away the layer of warm air at the surface of the skin and the wind chill factor is important in causing heat loss.
Age: Infants and older adults are at the highest risk of developing hypothermia due to their lower ability to regulate body temperature.
Mental Illness and Dementia: People with mental problems like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are at higher risk. Dementia can also risk hypothermia.
Alcohol or drug overuse can also hinder a person's reasoning about the cold.
Other Medical conditions
Medical conditions that can affect the body's ability to maintain an adequate temperature include:
Some conditions can cause a lack of feeling in the body
Spinal cord injuries
Certain medications can also hamper the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
Diagnosis of hypothermia depends on a person’s physical signs and the conditions exhibited by the person when he or she became sick or was found unwell. Certain blood works can also help to confirm the diagnosis and its severity.
Hypothermia is a medical emergency, so if you suspect anyone person experiencing hypothermia seek immediate medical help. The main aim of treatment is to increase body’s temperature to a normal range. However, while waiting for emergency medical care, the affected person should be provided with certain basic first aid which includes:
Handle patients with care, limit movements to those that are needed. Don’t massage or rub the person, as excessive movements may trigger cardiac arrest.
Shift the person out of the cold to a warm, dry area. If you’re unable to move the person out of the cold, then protect him or her from the wind as much as possible.
Remove wet clothing.
Cover the person with blankets or coats to warm the person.
Shield the person from the cold ground and lay them on a blanket or other warm surface.
Monitor breathing, if the person’s breathing has stopped dangerously low or shallow then start CPR immediately if you’re well trained.
Use warm, dry compresses to the neck, chest wall or groin.
Never give a warm compress to the arms or legs, as heat applied to the arms and legs forces cold blood to flow back toward the heart, lungs and brain causing the core body temperature to drop down further, which can be lethal.
Do not apply direct heat such as hot water, a heating pad, or a heating lamp to warm the person. As extreme heat can injure the skin or may lead to irregular heartbeats to be very severe, which can cause the heart to stop.
Based on the severity of hypothermia, emergency medical care for hypothermia may include:
Warm intravenous fluids