Hypothermia

Hypothermia typically occurs when the body loses heat far faster than it can produce it. Unfortunately this can cause a dangerously low body temperature which may lead to a medical emergency. The normal body temperature is approximately 98.6 Fahrenheit or 37 degrees centigrade. Hypothermia will most often occur when your body’s temperature falls below 95 Fahrenheit or 35 degrees centigrade. As soon as your body temperature does drop you will find that your heart, nervous system and the majority of your organs will not work correctly. Hypothermia that is left untreated may eventually lead to heart failure, extreme respiratory problems and death. Exposure to cold weather or being immersed in cold water is the most common cause of hypothermia. In order to treat hypothermia the body will need to be warmed back to a normal temperature.

There are numerous symptoms that you should look out for if you believe someone is suffering from hypothermia. One of the main symptoms is shivering, which is your body’s automatic defense system against the cold. Other symptoms may include stumbling, slurred speech, confusion, unable to make decisions, apathy, drowsiness, low energy levels, a loss of consciousness, shallow breathing and a weak pulse.

If someone is suffering from hypothermia they are usually completely unaware of their condition. This is mainly because the symptoms will build gradually and once the confused feeling takes over this will definitely prevent self-awareness. You will actually find the hypothermia isn’t always caused as a result of being exposed to extreme cold temperatures. Many elderly people have developed mild hypothermia indoors from a temperature that would be considered fine for someone younger and healthier. A prime example of this would be a home that is poorly heated or air-conditioned. The symptoms of mild hypothermia may be far harder to spot. These include, confusion, dizziness, fatigue, lack of coordination and nausea or vomiting. Hypothermia in infants or small children is equally as hard to spot and some of the signs you should look out for our bright red colored skin and very low energy levels.

As mentioned, the most common causes of hypothermia are typically when you are exposed to either cold water or cold weather conditions. The other conditions may lead to hypothermia include:

  • Staying in a cold environment for too long
  • Wearing clothes that are not warm enough for the weather conditions you are in
  • If you are unable to get out of wet clothes
  • If your home is not adequately heated, although this is mainly true for older people and young children
  • Air conditioning that is considered too cold

There are certain factors that can also increase the risk of a person developing hypothermia:

As mentioned, older people, and especially those aged 65 or over are far more vulnerable to hypothermia. You will find that your body’s ability to sense the cold and regulate temperature will lessen with age. The older you are, the more likely you are to have a medical condition that affects you being able to regulate your body’s temperature. Additionally many elderly people and pensioners are unable to effectively communicate that they feel extremely cold.

There is also a high risk of children at a young age developing hypothermia. This is mainly caused by the fact that children lose body heat far faster than adults. Children also have a larger head to body ratio than adults which makes them far more prone to lose heat through the head. Often children are likely to ignore the cold, merely because they are having lots of fun. They are also less likely to dress appropriately in cold weather conditions and are also far less likely to get out the cold when they should.

People who suffer mental illnesses such as dementia or any other condition that will impair their judgment may dress inappropriately for cold weather. They are less likely to understand the effects and risks involved when the weather is cold. It is also well known that people who suffer from dementia are more likely to wander away from the home, and this can lead to them becoming stranded in cold or wet weather.

By taking alcohol or recreational drugs, you may impair your judgment about how cold the weather actually is. Alcohol is known to dilate the blood vessels, as well as expand them, which is far more likely to result in a rapid heat loss through your skin. Someone who is intoxicated may even pass out in cold weather conditions and is therefore likely to develop hypothermia.

It is always advisable to seek immediate medical attention for someone who appears to be suffering from hypothermia. While waiting for medical help and there are certain guidelines you should follow such as moving the person out in the cold, removing any wet clothing, covering a person with blankets, ensuring that the person’s body is insulated from the cold ground, share your body heat and monitor their breathing.

Last updated on Jan 16th, 2011 and filed under Other Conditions & Diseases. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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