Winter Weather Awareness Week, November 11–15: Hypothermia

Posted on 11/13/2019 10:28:31 AM

Yesterday we talked about dressing properly for cold weather, and today and tomorrow we are going to learn about why it is important to dress for the elements. When the weather is extremely cold, it is very easy to lose body heat, which can lead to serious health problems such as hypothermia and frostbite.

HypothermiaWhat is hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature, usually below 95° F.  

When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system, and other organs can’t work normally. Left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and eventually to death.

Hypothermia is often caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in cold water. 

How does your body lose heat?

The mechanisms of heat loss from your body include the following:

  • Radiated heat. Most heat loss is due to heat radiated from unprotected surfaces of your body.

  • Direct contact. If you’re in direct contact with something very cold, such as cold water or the cold ground, heat is conducted away from your body. Because water is very good at transferring heat from your body, body heat is lost much faster in cold water than in cold air.

  • Wind. Wind removes body heat by carrying away the thin layer of warm air at the surface of your skin. A wind chill factor is important in causing heat loss.

Symptoms of Hypothermia

Shivering is likely the first thing you’ll notice as the temperature starts to drop because it’s your body’s automatic defense against cold temperature—an attempt to warm itself.

Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Slurred speech or mumbling
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Drowsiness or very low energy
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Loss of consciousness

Someone with hypothermia usually isn’t aware of his or her condition because the symptoms often begin gradually. Also, the confused thinking associated with hypothermia prevents self-awareness. The confused thinking can also lead to risk-taking behavior.

Don't Wait—Take Action!

Hypothermia is a medical emergency. If you notice any of the above signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95° F, get medical attention immediately!

If you are not able to get medical help right away, try to warm the person up.

  • Get the person into a warm room or shelter.

  • Remove any wet clothing the person is wearing.

  • Warm the center of the person’s body—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available. You can also use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.

  • Warm drinks can help increase body temperature. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.

  • After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrap their body, including their head and neck, in a warm blanket.

  • Get the person proper medical attention as soon as possible.

This message is brought to you by the IUP Emergency Management Office.