What is Hypothermia
With the weather cooling off and the snow season upon us we thought it was best to touch on the topic of Hypothermia, what causes it, what are the risks, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.
Hypothermia is a potentially dangerous drop in body temperature, usually caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. The body’s normal temperature is an average of 37 degrees Celsius with those suffering from Hypothermia seeing their body temperature drop to 35 degrees and in severe cases 27 degrees or lower.
What Causes Hypothermia?
The most common cause of hypothermia is cold exposure. This is when the balance between the body’s core heat production is rapidly loss over a prolonged period of time due to the body being exposed to cold/freezing conditions.
Heat escapes the body through the skin and through exhalation. Skin heat loss is caused by rapid radiation generally caused by exposure to cold winds or moisture. If a person is exposed to cold water or immersed in cold water for a prolonged period of time heat loss can occur 25x faster than if exposed to cold air.
The brain triggers the body to produce heat by either shivering, vasoconstriction (blood vessels restrict), cutis anserine (goose pimples). As the core body temperature cools so does the body heat production in the liver and heart causing the body to slowly ‘shut down’. Confusion and fatigue then set in making the person’s ability to understand situations and act accordingly to be hampered.
Other less common causes can include:
- Thyroid condition
- Severe trauma
The Risks of Hypothermia
People who are outdoors for extended periods of time in the cooler months or in cool climates
- The elderly and infants
- People suffering from mental illness
- Not dressing appropriately for the conditions. EG: snow wear for skiing
The Symptoms of Hypothermia
- Shivering in excess
- Slow and shallow breathing
- Confusion and Memory loss
- Slurred speech
- Loss of coordination
- Slow and weak pulse
- Loss of consciousness
- Cold and bright red skin
Through the use of a thermometer doctors or medical personal are able to determines a person’s code body temperature.
Mild hypothermia: 35 degrees Celsius
Moderate hypothermia: 28 – 34 degrees Celsius
Severe hypothermia: Lower than 28 degrees Celsius
Treatment of Hypothermia
- Removal of any wet clothes
- Protect the individual from winds, drafts and further heat loss through the use of warm and dry clothes and/or blankets
- Move person to a warm and dry shelter
- Warm the person by adding layers of warm/dry clothing and blankets. The use of hot packs in areas such the torso, armpits, neck and groin
- Monitor the person’s core body temperature with a thermometer
- Offer the person warm fluids however, avoiding alcohol and caffeine.
- If the individual is unconscious call 000 immediately and commence CPR immediately and continue until medical aid arrives or until persons regains consciousness