Having a lower than normal body temperature, depending on how many degrees, may be considered a hypothermic condition. Hypothermia is having a body temperature that is below the normal body temperature range of 36 to 37°C (96.8 to 98.6°F). A low body temperature may occur due to different external factors. Prolonged exposure to cold weather, taking cold baths, or swimming in a cold pool can cause a person’s temperature to drop and make him feel cold. However, hypothermic conditions may not always lead to a medical emergency or condition when the body is promptly warmed up after the cold exposure.
Hypothermia is only considered significant if the body temperature falls below 35°C (95°F), and it is considered as severe if the temperature falls below 32°C (90°F). Hypothermic conditions that require medical attention are those that are accompanied by other signs and symptoms that indicate a compromised physical state due to the cold temperature, usually resulting from an accident or physical distress.
The following are the common signs and symptoms that indicate a hypothermic condition that needs medical treatment:
- Slow pulse or absence thereof
- Slow breathing patterns or absence thereof
- Unconsciousness or unresponsiveness
- Slurred speech
- Staggering gait
- Cold and clammy skin that may also blotch
Severe Hypothermia may also cause internal body changes like the following:
- Changes in the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood
- Changes in blood chemistry
- Irregular or arrhythmic heart beats
- Differences or changes in deep tissue and superficial tissue temperature
If a person is suspected to be suffering from severe hypothermia, prompt intervention and first aid should be given to prevent the condition from worsening. Below are the initial steps that you may take to help or aid a person with hypothermia:
- Call for help. You should dial 911 or call other emergency medical agencies for help if you observe signs and symptoms of severe hypothermia.
- Slowly warm the body. If a person is suffering hypothermia from prolonged exposure to the cold, it would be dangerous if you suddenly warm him down directly with warm objects. You must first take the person indoors, away from the cold. Dry him off if he was immersed in cold water for a long time by removing wet clothing and covering him in dry clothes or towels. Begin warming him by starting with the trunk first, not the limbs or extremities. Warming the hands and feet first may cause the person to go into a state of shock. Use a warm compress or warm bottle wrapped in a clean towel or cloth and press on the person’s chest. Do not give a warm bath by immersing him in warm water. Again, warm the trunk first before proceeding with warming the extremities.
- Perform CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation) if the person is unconscious and not breathing or if you feel no pulse. CPR should be done while warming the person.
- If the person is still awake or conscious, give him warm fluids. Do not give warm coffee or any drink with caffeine and alcoholic beverages.
- Keep the person warm by wrapping him in thick blankets. Expose less of the person’s skin to preserve body heat.
- Follow-up medical help. A medical team should arrive at the area after several minutes. If it takes them too long, dial 911 again to follow-up and ensure that a medical team gets there on time.
Severe hypothermia should be managed properly. Otherwise, prolonged hypothermia may cause body cells and tissues to die because of interruption in blood flow or circulation. This is because the extreme cold can cause the blood to clot and stagnate inside the blood vessels.