Getting outside and active during the winter is key to good mental and physical health. Temperatures have been generally mild so far this year, but if you’re outside a lot, get wet, are hill-walking, or in colder areas, it’s important to be able to keep yourself and young kids warm. Knowing the signs of hypothermia and how to treat it are essential to being safe.
To get all the details about hypothermia, we talked to JustAnswer Expert Mysticdoc. With over 15 years of direct medical experience in cold, snow-heavy areas, he knows everything there is to know about the dangers.
Firstly, could you please explain the difference between hypothermia and frostbite?
Hypothermia is defined as the drop in core body temperature below 35C (95F), when body gets very cold and can’t warm up on its own. Frostbite is the freezing of the specific part of the body like fingers, toes, nose etc. without drop in core body temperature. Hypothermia is graded as:
Mild hypothermia – Core temperature 32 to 35ºC (90 to 95ºF);
Moderate hypothermia – Core temperature 28 to 32ºC (82 to 90ºF);
Severe hypothermia – Core temperature below 28ºC (82ºF)
What are some clear/telltale symptoms?
Symptoms can include: shivering or shaking (but if hypothermia becomes severe, the person might actually stop shivering), trouble with speaking clearly, faster breathing, mental confusion, clumsiness, and frequent urination.
What are the more serious symptoms?
Severe hypothermia can cause fluid in the lungs, irregular heartbeats, drop in blood pressure, coma, lack of reflexes or jerking movements of the legs or arms, and decreased urination.
What should I do if I experience initial symptoms?
You should try to move to a warmer place as soon as possible. Take off any wet clothes and drink warm beverages like coffee, tea, soup etc.
What should I do if someone I know experiences hypothermia?
Please do the same things as above. Move the person to a warm place, take off wet clothing, cover with blankets, and offer warm beverages. Seek medical help immediately if the person is not responding well, or blacked out, has difficulty in breathing, and stopped shivering.
Very importantly, if you do see or suspect frostbite on any part of the body, please do not rub or massage the area as that can cause more serious damage.
What risks does hypothermia present in children?
Children are more prone to hypothermia, as their body surface area is less, and this makes it hard for them to stay warm for longer. Kids also may not feel it when they get too cold.
How can hypothermia be prevented?
In most cases, you can prevent hypothermia by being careful not to stay out in the cold for too long. Be sure to dress warmly enough, and wear layers. Change out of wet clothes as quickly as possible.
You should also limit the amount of time you spend out in the cold and be sure to drink warm beverages.
Children should be dressed with warm clothes in layers, wear mittens, and hats.
What are the treatments for hypothermia for adults and kids?
Severe hypothermia requires hospital admission for treatment and close monitoring until the patient is stable. Breathing support through the breathing tube may be required.
Hospital treatment of hypothermia might include any of the following:
(These measures are also known as passive rewarming measures. They are employed first for mild to moderate cases.)
Blankets, heating pads, warm baths, or heaters that blow warm air over the skin – these can all be used to help bring a person’s body temperature back up.
(The following measures are known as active rewarming measures reserved for more severe cases.)
Warm fluids through IV (a thin tube that goes into a vein) and warm oxygen to breathe, or a breathing tube if needed. Warming the inside of the body with water – warm salt water can be used to bring heat to the organs. The water goes into the body through a small tube, then back out.
Medicines – Sometimes medicines are needed to treat related issues like low blood pressure or heart problems or treat the serious underlying infections.
Blood rewarming – This is done with a special machine that draws blood out of the body, warms it up, and then puts it back in.
Are some people more susceptible to hypothermia than others?
Elderly people, children, people who have problems with alcohol and critically ill people (infectious or hormonal disorders) are more susceptible to hypothermia. Prompt evaluation is required in such persons with signs of hypothermia.
Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us, Mysticdoc!
Have medical questions of your own? Mysticdoc and our team of Medical Experts are available 24/7.