What is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia is when a person’s normal body temperature drops below 35°C, and is usually caused by being in a cold environment.
There are different types of hypothermia. Acute or immersion hypothermia occurs when a person loses heat very rapidly. Exhaustion hypothermia occurs when a person’s body is too tired to generate heat. Chronic hypothermia is when heat loss occurs gradually over time.
After prolonged exposure to the cold, the body’s responses like shivering, restricting blood flow to the skin and releasing hormones to generate heat are not enough to maintain body temperature. It will then start to shut down, and the heartbeat will begin to slow.
How common is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia is the main contributing factor to the deaths of more than 400 people 65 years and older every year in the UK.
The most vulnerable people are the elderly, the ill, the homeless, climbers and skiers, and babies.
What are the symptoms of Hypothermia?
Mild cases of hypothermia cause shivering, feeling cold, low energy and cold, pale skin. Moderate cases of hypothermia causes violent shivering, inability to pay attention, confusion, loss of judgement, weakness, memory loss, drowsiness, slurred speech, and shallow breathing.
Symptoms of severe hypothermia include loss of control of limbs, uncontrollable shivering that suddenly stops; unconsciousness; shallow or no breathing; weak or no pulse; stiff muscles and dilated pupils.
Twenty to fifty per cent of hypothermia deaths are associated with paradoxical undressing. This typically occurs during moderate to severe hypothermia, as the person becomes disoriented, confused, and combative. They may begin discarding their clothing, which, in turn, increases the rate of heat loss.
How is Hypothermia treated?
Hypothermia should be treated as soon as possible. Whilst waiting for medical treatment, the sufferer should be moved somewhere warm, removed from any wet clothing, wrapped in blankets, hugged, and given warm drinks and high energy foods.
CPR may be needed whilst the person is warmed in severe cases of hypothermia. Medical treatment includes warm fluids intravenously, haemodialysis or cardiopulmonary bypass.
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