The symptoms of hypothermia can vary depending on how low your body temperature has become. The early symptoms of hypothermia are often recognized by a parent or care giver. This is because it can cause confusion, poor judgment and changes in behavior, which means the affected person may not realize they have it.
If someone has mild hypothermia (generally with a body temperature of 32-35C), the symptoms aren't always obvious, but they can include: constant shivering, tiredness, low energy, cold or pale skin, fast breathing (hyperventilation)
Moderate cases of hypothermia (generally with a body temperature of 82-89 F) can include symptoms such as: being unable to think or pay attention, confusion, loss of judgment and reasoning (someone with hypothermia may decide to remove clothing despite being very cold), difficulty moving around, loss of co-ordination, drowsiness, slurred speech, slow, shallow breathing (hypoventilation).
People with a body temperature of 89F or lower will usually stop shivering completely. This is a sign that their condition is deteriorating and emergency medical help is required.
The symptoms of severe hypothermia (a body temperature of below 82F) can include: unconsciousness, shallow or no breathing, a weak, irregular pulse, or no pulse, dilated pupils.
Someone with severe hypothermia may appear to be dead. However, under these circumstances they must be taken to a hospital to determine whether they've died or if they're in a state of severe hypothermia. Medical treatment can still be used to resuscitate people with severe hypothermia, although it's not always successful.
Hypothermia is treated by preventing further heat being lost and by gently warming the patient. You should seek immediate medical attention if you suspect someone has hypothermia as it can be life threatening.
Treating mild or moderate hypothermia:
If you're waiting for medical treatment to arrive, the advice below will help prevent further heat loss. Move the person indoors or somewhere warm as soon as possible. Once the person is in a warm environment, carefully remove any wet clothing and dry them.
Wrap them in warm blankets, towels, or coats (whatever you have available), protecting their head and torso first. Encourage the person to shiver if they're capable of doing so.
If possible, give the person warm drinks (not alcohol) or high-energy foods, such as chocolate, to help warm them up. But only do this if they can swallow normally - ask them to cough to see if they can swallow. Once the person's body temperature has increased, keep them warm and dry. It's important to handle a person with hypothermia gently and carefully.
Things to avoid:
There are certain things you shouldn't do when helping someone with hypothermia because it may make the condition worse: don't put the cold person into a hot bath, don't massage their limbs, don't use heating lamps, don't give them alcohol to drink.
Trying to warm someone up yourself with hot water, massages, heat pads and heat lamps can cause the blood vessels in the arms and legs to open up too quickly. If this happens, it can lead to a dramatic fall in blood pressure to the vital organs such as the brain, heart, lungs and kidneys, potentially resulting in cardiac arrest and death.
If someone you know has been exposed to the cold and they're distressed or confused, they have slow, shallow breathing or they're unconscious, they may have severe hypothermia. Their skin may look healthy but feel cold. Babies may also be limp, unusually quiet and refuse to feed.
Cases of severe hypothermia require urgent medical treatment in hospital. You should call 911 to request an ambulance if you suspect someone has severe hypothermia.
As the body temperature drops, shivering will stop completely. The heart rate will slow and a person will gradually lose consciousness. They won't appear to have a pulse or be breathing. If you know how to do it, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should be given while you wait for help to arrive.
If someone is admitted to the hospital with severe hypothermia, advanced medical treatment can be used to warm them up. This can be done by temporarily withdrawing blood from the body, warming it and then returning it to the body. These techniques are cardiopulmonary bypass (sometimes called heart-lung bypass) and extra corporeal membranous oxygenation (ECMO).
However, these techniques are only available in major hospitals that have specialist emergency services or units that regularly perform heart surgery.
A person with severe hypothermia often stands a better chance of surviving if they're taken directly by ambulance to one of these hospitals, even if it means bypassing a smaller hospital along the way.
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