Not all winters are harsh but the one’s that are can turn deadly in a matter of minutes, with the right conditions. Get the facts about hypothermia, the life you save might just be your own.
Your body’s core temperature refers to the temperature of the body. Temperature can vary depending on the method in which the temperature is taking. Body temperature is typically measured orally (by mouth), rectally, axillary (under the arm), tympanic (by ear), and nowadays even by rolling a sensor over the temporal artery. Taking one’s temperature orally is most common.
A normal core temperature can vary; however, it typically remains close to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Typically, temperature will fluctuate within a degree or two of this value. Extreme deviations from this body temperature can be harmful and potentially fatal.
An elevated temperature above 99-100 degrees Fahrenheit is typically referred to as a fever. The higher the fever, the more dangerous the condition. In contrast, a drop in body temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit is indicative of hypothermia, and a measurement below 86 degrees Fahrenheit is considered very severe.
The medical definition of hypothermia is the occurrence of a dangerous drop in body temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Hypothermia is a dangerous and life-threatening condition.
Symptoms of hypothermia, other than a body temperature of less than 95 degrees, include confusion and loss of coordination, exhaustion, slurred speech, and a weakened pulse. Shivering is often a first response to hypothermia, but can be a good sign that the body is working to heat itself. Most people relate hypothermia with incidents involving being immersed in cold water. While cold water certainly can cause hypothermia if the patient is not treated properly and quickly enough, this is actually not the most common cause of hypothermia.
Exposure is actually the most common cause of hypothermia. In the United States, it is the leading cause of death in homeless persons. When the body is exposed to rough conditions and harsh winter temperatures, it may have trouble heating itself to maintain an appropriate core body temperature.
Exposure could happen to anyone at any time. Temperatures do not even have to drop below freezing for hypothermia to be a risk. Not properly covering yourself or insulating your body against the cold with the use of appropriate clothing or blankets can put you at risk.
Alcohol is a substance that can cause hypothermia. Alcohol can increase blood flow in the body, which can make a person feel warmer, but in fact is lowering the body’s temperature.
Some illnesses can put people at risk of hypothermia. Diabetes and thyroid conditions can put a person at risk. Medications and drug use can also increase the risk of hypothermia. Some medications lower the body’s core temperature, but your doctor and pharmacist will usually warn you about any risks. Drug use can put the body at risk for a multitude of assorted health problems, including hypothermia by quickly lowering the body’s core temperature.
If you or someone you see is potentially suffering from the symptoms of hypothermia, take action to prevent the condition from worsening. Get the patient away from any cold, wet, or damp areas. Replace any wet clothing and cover the patient in warm blankets. Offer the victim warm liquids such as hot water or tea, but avoid caffeinated beverages that constrict blood vessels. Possibly most importantly, get the patient to a hospital or medical facility as soon as possible.