What is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia is a condition when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat – leading to seriously low body temperature. Naturally, the normal mechanism of your organs will be affected if your body temperature falls below 37oC.
If not treated immediately, hypothermia can lead to heart failure, respiratory system disorders, and even death.
Causes of Hypothermia
Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it produces. There are several conditions that could trigger your body to lose a lot of heat and lead to hypothermia, including:
- Prolonged exposure to cold weather
- Wearing clothes that are not warm enough for weather conditions
- Wearing wet clothes for too long
- Spending too much time in the water
The mechanisms of heat loss from your body occur mostly through your skin (up to 90%). For the rest, heat is conducted away from your body. Wind can also cause increased heat loss.
Cold water can drain your body heat up to 25 times faster than cold air.
The activity of your heart and liver also produces most of your body heat, but when the body temperature becomes cold, both organs generate less heat. This is due to low body temperature and can slow down the work of your organs.
Hypothermia can affect anyone, regardless of age and gender. However, there are several factors that increase the risk of experiencing hypothermia, such as:
- Age-related factor (infants and elderly persons run higher risk of hypothermia)
- Mental disorders, such as dementia
- Consumption of alcohol and narcotics
- Use of drugs for depression and sedatives
- Other diseases, such as hypothyroidism, arthritis, stroke, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease
When to See a Doctor for Hypothermia
Hypothermia is a serious medical condition as it can lead to complications, even death. Some of the health complications that may arise are:
- Frostbite, or an injury to the skin and tissue under the skin due to freezing.
- Chilblains, or the condition of the inflammation of the small blood vessels and nerves in the skin.
- Gangrene, or tissue damage.
- Trench foot, or the condition of damaged blood vessels and nerves in the feet resulting from your feet being wet for too long
Symptoms of Hypothermia
Symptoms of hypothermia range from mild to severe, including:
- Pale skin
- Bluish lips
- Decreased response and consciousness
- Drowsiness or very low energy
- Slurred speech
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Weak pulse
Signs of hypothermia in infants include cold skin and bright red skin. Moreover, the infant may show inactivity or lack of energy, and lose appetite.
The levels of hypothermia and their symptoms include:
One of the symptoms of mild hypothermia is when your body temperature is between 32.2 ℃ -35 ℃. Apart from low body temperature, you may also experience shivering. Shivering is your body’s automatic defense against cold temperature.
In addition to people with mild hypothermia, your blood pressure may also increase, your heart rate and breathing rhythm becomes faster, and you may even exhibit a lack of coordination.
You may have moderate hypothermia if your body temperature is between 28 ℃ -32.2 ℃. You may also deal with lower levels of body awareness and blood pressure, dilated pupils, and decreased reflexes.
A symptom of severe hypothermia is when your body temperature is less than 28 ℃. In addition, you may experience difficulty breathing, heart failure, and non-reactive pupils.
As your body temperature drops, you no longer feel shivering. However, in severe hypothermia, you may have slurred speech problems and irregular heartbeat.
Treatment for Hypothermia
The first thing to check when anyone shows any symptoms of hypothermia is the pulse rate and respiratory rate. If the person’s breathing has stopped, a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) must be immediately done until medical help is available.
Below are some first-aid guidelines for hypothermia treatment.
- Move the person to a drier and warmer place. Handle him or her gently. Limit movements to only those that are necessary. Excessive movements may trigger cardiac arrest.
- Change wet clothes to dry clothes.
- Cover the person’s body with a coat or blanket to keep them warm.
- If the person is still conscious, provide a warm, sweet beverage.
- Apply a warm compress on the neck, chest, and groin. Avoid putting the compress on the arm or leg area as it will cause the cold blood to flow back to the heart, lungs, and brain.
- Accompany the person while continuing to monitor their condition until medical assistance arrives.
The following are common medical treatment for people with hypothermia:
- Oxygen supply. Oxygen is passed through a mask or nasal tube and has been pre-moisturized to warm the airways and increase body temperature.
- Intravenous fluids. A warmed intravenous solution may be put into a vein.
- Blood rewarming using a hemodialysis machine. This will cause the warmed blood to flow back into the body.
- Giving a warmed sterile liquid. This sterile liquid is inserted into the abdominal cavity using a special tube.
Treatment Cost for Hypothermia
Treatment cost for hypothermia may vary, depending on the severity of the hypothermia and any required additional medical procedures.
For more details regarding the cost of hypothermia treatment, hospital recommendations, and making appointments with doctors at home and abroad, contact Smarter Health.
Prevention of Hypothermia
You can prevent hypothermia by maintaining your body heat.
- Keep your body warm. Try your best to avoid wearing wet clothes for too long. Wet clothes absorb body heat.
- Wear clothes that suit the weather conditions. When traveling to a cooler place such as hiking or camping in a cold place, be sure to wear thick clothing to maintain your body temperature
- Wear hats, scarves, gloves, socks, boots if you need extra warmth
- Try to keep your body moving when it’s cold. Do light and simple movements to keep your body warm.
- Consume warm foods and beverages to maintain your body temperature.
Home Remedies for Hypothermia
To keep your body warm at home, follow some of these suggestions:
- Maintain a warm room temperature
- Wear warm clothes if you are going to be outside the house during low weather’s temperature
- If you have a baby and / or an elderly person living in your house, move them to a warmer room if they seem cold or experience shivering