What is hypothermia?
When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.
Hypothermia occurs most commonly at very cold environmental temperatures, but can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water.
Who is most at risk for hypothermia?
Victims of hypothermia are most often (1) elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heating; (2) babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; (3) children left unattended; (4) adults under the influence of alcohol; (5) mentally ill individuals; and (6) people who remain outdoors for long periods — the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.
What are the warning signs for hypothermia?
- shivering / exhaustion
- confusion / fumbling hands
- memory loss / slurred speech
- bright red, cold skin
- very low energy
Who is most at risk for hypothermia?
Victims of hypothermia are most often:
- elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heating
- babies sleeping in cold bedrooms
- children left unattended
- adults under the influence of alcohol
- mentally ill individuals
- people who remain outdoors for long periods — the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.
What should I do if I see someone with warning signs of hypothermia?
If you notice signs of hypothermia, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95°, the situation is an emergency — get medical attention immediately.
If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:
- Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
- If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
- Warm the center of the body first — chest, neck, head, and groin — using an electric blanket, if available. Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
- Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature, but do NOT give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
- After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
- Get medical attention as soon as possible.
A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the victim gently, and get emergency assistance immediately. Even if the victim appears dead, CPR should be provided. CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.
Why are infants and older people most at risk for cold-related illness?
- Infants lose body heat more easily than adults; additionally, infants can’t make enough body heat by shivering. Infants less than one year old should never sleep in a cold room. Provide warm clothing and a blanket for infants and try to maintain a warm indoor temperature. If the temperature cannot be maintained, make temporary arrangements to stay elsewhere. In an emergency, you can keep an infant warm using your own body heat. If you must sleep, take precautions to prevent rolling on the baby. Pillows and other soft bedding can also present a risk of smothering; remove them from the area near the baby.
Older adults often make less body heat because of a slower metabolism and less physical activity. If you are more than 65 years of age, check the temperature in your home often during severely cold weather. Also, check on elderly friends and neighbors frequently to ensure that their homes are adequately heated.
How can I heat my home safely?
If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, be extremely careful. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions as well as the advance home safety measures on page 4 and remember these safety tips:
- Store a multipurpose, dry chemical fire extinguisher near the area to be heated.
- Do not burn paper in a fireplace.
- Ensure adequate ventilation by opening an interior door or slightly opening a window if you must use a kerosene heater.
- Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use — don’t substitute.
- If your heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, don’t use it.
- Use fireplaces, wood stoves, and other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak flue gas into the indoor air space. Make sure chimneys and flues are cleaned periodically.
- Do not place a space heater near things that may catch on fire, such as drapes, furniture, or bedding.
To keep water pipes from freezing in the home:
- Let faucets drip a little to avoid freezing;
- Open cabinet doors to allow more heat to get to un-insulated pipes under a sink or appliance near an outer wall; and
- Make sure heat is left on and set no lower than 55 degrees. Individuals and their families should be knowledgeable on how to shut off the water source to the home in the event that the pipes freeze and burst. This action will stop the water flow and help minimize the damage to the home. Residents who experience frozen or burst water pipes should contact a plumber and their insurance agent. Never try to thaw a pipe with an open flame or torch and be aware of the potential for electric shock in and around standing water.
If someone you know – a friend, neighbor or relative – is elderly or dependent on life-sustaining or health- related equipment such as a ventilator, respirator or oxygen concentrator, check on them on regular basis to ensure further ensure their safety and well-being.
Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC)