Hypothermia is the medical term for abnormally low body temperature. This condition is diagnosed if a patient’s temperature is lower than ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit (thirty-five degrees Celsius).
Hypothermia can occur in individuals of any age and is most commonly caused by exposure to winter conditions such as snow and ice. It can also be caused by being immersed in cold water.
Infants and the elderly are at an increased risk for hypothermia, which is considered a medical emergency and requires prompt treatment. Infants may develop hypothermia after sleeping in a room that is too cold for them.
The elderly often have poor circulation and can develop hypothermia if their homes or bedrooms are not warm enough for them in the winter.
In the advanced stages, hypothermia can lead to heart problems and organ failure, and it may eventually cause death if left untreated.
Symptoms of hypothermia typically begin with shivering. As it progresses, other symptoms such as weak pulse, confusion, memory loss, slow breathing, drowsiness, or loss of consciousness may appear.
To diagnose hypothermia, doctors look at the physical signs the patient is experiencing, and they may also perform blood tests to determine the stage of hypothermia a patient has.
5 Ways to Treat Hypothermia
The steps outlined below can help treat early-stage hypothermia. Emergency care should be sought if these steps do not help or if advanced symptoms such as drowsiness and slow breathing are present.
1. Get Out of The Cold
Since this condition is particularly prevalent among individuals who spend time outdoors, the most important step in treatment is for the patient to get out of the cold.
If patients are outside when they begin experiencing symptoms, they should move to the nearest warm location as soon as possible. For campers, this might include moving inside their tent or seeking shelter at warmer campsite facilities.
Travelers should try to move to their cars or a nearby building. If possible, the location to which patients move should be both warm and dry.
For patients who are already too ill to walk or for those who cannot be moved, caregivers should try to protect them from the cold as much as they can. The patient should be kept in a horizontal position for safety.
2. Remove Any Wet Clothing
It is important to remove wet clothing to help a hypothermiapatient warm up. Patients with hypothermia need to be moved very gently as anysudden movements could trigger cardiac arrest or an irregular heart rhythm. Ifnecessary, clothing should be cut away from the patient’s body.
This allows them to remain still and can be easier for patients who are in more advanced stages of hypothermia. When removing clothing, avoid rubbing or massaging the patient in an attempt to warm them. This can lead to cardiac rhythm issues.
Once clothing is cut away, the patient should be provided with dry clothing and covered with blankets. Ideally, a blanket should be placed underneath the patient as well, particularly if they are outside. If possible, move the patient to a warm surface such as a bed or sleeping bag to rest.
3. Cover with Blankets
Blankets are the safest source of rewarming for patients affected by hypothermia. To provide the most warmth, use several layers of blankets or coats laid on top of each other.
Fleece, mylar, and wool blankets are all suitable. Be sure to cover the patient’s entire body, including the top of their head, with the blankets. The patient’s head could also be covered with a hat. Only the patient’s face should be left exposed.
Do not use any electric blankets or heating pads during the rewarming process. Doing so may cause burns and could also rewarm the patient too quickly, leading to irregular heartbeats and potentially to cardiac arrest.
After covering the patient with blankets, their breathing rate should be monitored. For patients in the hospital, staff have heated blankets used to safely increase a patient’s temperature. This is known as passive rewarming.
4. Drink Warm Beverages
Patients who are in the early stages of hypothermia will probably still be able to swallow. If they are awake and alert, these patients should be encouraged to drink warm beverages.
Suitable beverages should be free from caffeine and alcohol and should be both warm and sweet. Caffeine-free teas, hot chocolate, warm milk, or apple cider would all be appropriate choices.
For patients who are in later stages of hypothermia and are not alert enough to drink for themselves, hospital staff at the emergency room may use warmed saline solution administered with an IV to help patients warm up quickly and safely.
Hospital staff can also rewarm the patient using a hemodialysis machine, which is most often used for patients with kidney conditions.
These machines remove blood from the patient, warm it up, and recirculate it back into the patient’s body. Oxygen that has been humidified may also be provided to the patient with a nasal tube or oxygen mask to help warm the patient’s airways and increase their temperature.
5. Use Warm and Dry Compresses
In treating patients who have any stage of hypothermia, compresses must be used with caution. Caregivers should use warm and dry compresses, and they can only be applied to certain areas of the body.
If a standard compress is not available, a towel warmed in the dryer or a plastic water bottle filled with warm water will work. A compress should only be applied to the neck, groin, or chest wall for patients with hypothermia.
Using a warm compress on the arms, legs, or other areas could cause cold blood to move back toward the brain, lungs, or heart, which could lower the person’s body temperature even more.
For hypothermia patients at the hospital, staff may usecatheters to administer warm saline into a patient’s abdominal cavity forrewarming purposes.