HYPOTHERMIA

Hypothermia is a drop in body temperature below 35.0°C caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Normal body temperature averages 37.0°C. In severe hypothermia, core body temperature can drop to 27.8°C or lower.

Hypothermia symptoms for adults include:

  • Shivering
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Drowsiness or exhaustion
  • Slurred or mumbled speech
  • Loss of coordination, fumbling hands, stumbling steps
  • A slow, weak pulse
  • Unconscious without obvious signs of breathing or a pulse

Hypothermia symptoms for infants include:

  • Cold-to-touch, bright red skin
  • Unusually low energy

DIAGNOSIS

A specialized thermometer can detect very low core body temperatures and confirm a diagnosis.

Temperatures for mild, moderate, and severe hypothermia generally range from:

  • Mild hypothermia: 31.7-35.0°C
  • Moderate hypothermia: 27.8-31.7°C
  • Severe hypothermia: <27.8°C

Because response to hypothermia varies among individuals, temperatures may differ.

 

RECOMMENDED MEDICATIONS

Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition that needs urgent medical attention.

If medical care isn’t immediately available:

  • Remove any wet clothes, hats, gloves, shoes, and socks.
  • Protect the person against wind, drafts, and further heat loss with warm, dry clothes and blankets.
  • Move gently to a warm, dry shelter as soon as possible.
  • Begin rewarming the person with extra clothing. Use warm blankets. Other helpful items for warming are: an electric blanket to the torso area and hot packs and heating pad on the torso, armpits, neck, and groin; however, these can cause burns to the skin. Use your own body heat if nothing else is available.
  • Take the person’s temperature if a thermometer is available.
  • Offer warm liquids.

If unconscious, or has no pulse or signs of breathing, call for emergency help right away. CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) should be given immediately if a pulse can’t be felt and there is no sign of breathing.

In cases of advanced hypothermia, hospital treatment is required to rewarm the core temperature. Hypothermia treatment may include warmed IV fluids, heated and humidified oxygen, peritoneal lavage (internal “washing” of the abdominal cavity), and other measures.

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