Hypothermia is a medical condition typically brought on by the body’s exposure to cold temperatures or immersion in cold water. Hypothermia is diagnosed when the body loses heat faster that it can produce heat. Heat conducts from warm to cold, so a body not adequately protected from cold temperatures will conduct body heat into the surrounding air thus chilling the body rapidly. The average body temperature is 98.6ᵒF/37ᵒC and when that temperature drops to 95ᵒF/35ᵒC, the person is in the initial stages of hypothermia. Failure to warm the body once in hypothermia will cause the heart and other organs to work harder and eventually fail resulting in death.
Older individuals or people with underlying medical conditions may develop hypothermia at temperatures that may not have an adverse affect on a healthy individual. Therefore, it is important to monitor all individuals, who are exposed to cold temperatures or even what may be considered cool temperatures.
- Shivering (Constant Shivering Means The Body Cannot Warm Itself)
- Loss Of Coordination
- Mumbling And Slurring Of Speech
- Difficulty Forming Thoughts
- Lack Of Energy
- A Person Will Not Realize They Are In A Life Threatening Situation
- Person Is Unconscious
- Pulse Is Weak
- Takes Shallow Breathe
Hypothermia happens gradually and as people become confused they are not aware, they are developing this life threatening condition.
The body warms itself by transporting warm blood through arterial vessels, veins and capillaries. When the skin senses cold, the warm blood flows to the extremities to warm the areas up. If the vessels carrying the warm blood are exposed to cold, the blood will chill cooling the body. The arteries in the neck, wrists and thighs are large vessels that must be protected from the cold temperatures. Wear a neck scarf, gloves, and heavy pants to protect the large vessels. The head must be protected as well because heat will radiate from your body through this relatively large surface.
Limiting your exposure to cold temperatures and having the proper clothing are your first lines of defense against hypothermia. Your clothing should be layered so you can regulate your body temperature by cooling the body before it can sweat. If you only have on a heavy coat, you will begin to sweat if you exert yourself and you cannot remove the only layer. If you layer your clothing, and feel yourself warming up you can remove the outer layer to prevent perspiration, and when you cool down you can put the outer coat back on. Your body sweats to cool itself down by the evaporation of the moisture from your skin. The outer layer should be waterproof. Getting wet in cold temperatures will accelerate hypothermia. Wet clothing must be removed quickly.
Clothing should prevent radiant heat loss from your body by reflecting the heat back onto the skin. Remember heat conducts from warm to cold so it will always seek to radiant from your body to the cold air. The proper clothing will prevent this heat loss. Thermal heat blankets are specifically designed to prevent thermal or radiant heat loss, so it is recommended you always have at least one. They are compact enough to carry in your pockets.
Wool and fleece will wick moisture away from your skin to prevent cooling by evaporation and both are recommended for anyone exposed to cold temperatures. Wool will also retain close to 80 percent of its insulating properties even when wet. Shelter is important in frigid conditions.
Shelter and Fire
If you are stranded or lost in cold temperature, you must find shelter and have the ability to start a fire. If there is heavy snow on the ground, you can use this as shelter by constructing a snow cave or digging down to bare ground and by making walls of the snow on all sides to break the wind. The temperature inside of a snow cave can be as much as 20 degrees warmer than the outside air.
Do not allow your body to make contact with the cold ground; you must have an insulator between you and any cold surface. Your body will conduct heat into the ground if you have direct contact with it.
Once you realize someone has developed hypothermia that person must be warmed up quickly by getting them to a shelter and covering with blankets near a heat source. Do not lay them directly on the ground. You can strip to bare skin, strip them, and have skin-to-skin contact to warm them up while under blankets. If their clothes are wet, remove immediately. Warm beverages will help as well but do not give them alcohol or any type of caffeine products. Place warming packs/compresses from a first aid kit on their chest and groin area but do not place on their legs or arms because this will force cold blood to rush to the heart. Do not rub the body of anyone you suspect has hypothermia. They must be handled gently because their heart at this point may be struggling.
Do not drench the body in hot water or apply a heat source directly to the body, such as a heating pad. This can damage the skin and if the body if experiencing irregular heartbeats it can put them into cardiac arrest.