Hypothermia can happen anytime the outside temperature falls below the comfort zone. In Colorado Springs, you could get hypothermia well into Spring – in April or May. Hypothermia occurrences in the mountains are common in almost any season and all suspected cases should be treated seriously – even if the weather conditions may not be severe.
You get hypothermia when your body loses heat faster than it is able to produce heat, resulting in a dangerously low body temperature. This situation is dangerous, and it’s important to be aware of the effects of this condition and how to prevent it. It’s important to recognize individuals who are most at risk, how to see warning signs, and how to treat it once it’s occurred.
What are the Causes of Hypothermia?
Hypothermia occurs most often when an individual has been exposed to extremely cold temperatures (even though it can happen at higher temperatures in some situations). The human body can use up all of the stored energy, and eventually the internal body temperature starts to lower dramatically. That’s when the trouble begins.
If the body temperature gets too low, the function of the brain can decrease, and the patient is then not able to think clearly. In severe scenarios, the individual may become overly tired and then sit down temporarily to rest; in many extreme cases, this leads to death. This stopping to rest phenomenon is actually a major cause of death for mountain climbers.
Who is Typically Affected?
Any individual can develop hypothermia in the right situation, but some people experience the effects more quickly than others do, including:
- Older people tend to store less energy in their bodies overall, so they tend to quickly suffer in colder temperatures. This can become a dangerous situation if they don’t have enough to eat, a warm space, and appropriate clothing for the weather.
- People who are outside for long periods of time, like: hikers, those who work outside, hunters, the homeless, and those in similar situations can quickly develop hypothermia if they aren’t wearing the correct clothing or keeping an eye on the temperature to deal with sudden colder weather.
- While this isn’t common, babies can also come down with hypothermia while sleeping in a colder bedroom, as their tiny bodies are too small to store a large amount of energy.
- Those who use drugs or drink large amounts of alcohol are also more prone to the symptoms of hypothermia when the weather cools down.
Ways to Recognize Hypothermia
Hypothermia can develop before a person realizes that they are having issues, but there are specific symptoms that will need to be monitored closely.
- Shivering. If someone begins to shiver after they’ve been outside for some time, it’s important that they immediately take steps to warm themselves.
- Drowsiness or general exhaustion. Sudden exhaustion for no particular reason, while cold or in cold temperatures, can mean hypothermia is setting in and should be handled immediately.
- Fumbling or confusion As hypothermia begins to take hold, the brain can be dramatically affected, making normal tasks become difficult and confusing, leading to fumbling.
- Slurring speech. If you notice slurred speech, it’s important to check for the other symptoms of hypothermia right away.
- Memory Loss. Memory is also affected by hypothermia, so if this occurs, it’s important to provide the individual with immediate assistance.
If you notice any of these symptoms, the first thing you’ll need to do is take their temperature as soon as possible. If it registers on the thermometer below 95 degrees, they’ll need emergency medical attention immediately. If their temperature is higher than 95 degrees, or if there’s no emergency attention close to you, start warming them up with these methods:
- Relocate them to a warm place, preferably indoors.
- Take off any wet clothing that they are wearing.
- Work to warm the core areas of the body first – the chest, neck, and groin. If you have it, use an electric blanket. If it’s an emergency situation, opt for skin to skin contact under loose blankets.
- Warm liquids can be especially useful to warm the patient, but avoid alcoholic drinks as they are precisely what is not needed to treat any symptoms of hypothermia.
- Keep the victim wrapped snugly in dry, warm blankets even after you see an increase in body temperature.
- No matter how well they seem to recover, it’s always wise to seek professional medical attention.
- If the individual appears to be dead or comatose, practice CPR anyway and attempt to warm them while waiting for medical help. Hypothermia can slow down every function of the body, and often a person that seems to be dead can be revived if CPR is applied continually.
These are the basic steps to handle if a person ever falls victim to hypothermia. Take the time to dress carefully for the cold weather that you may be facing, and keep a careful eye out for hypothermia symptoms. Remember that it’s not to brush off, and that it can happen to anyone.
If you or someone you know is showing signs of hypothermia and can safely make it into ER Specialists Urgency Center, we would love to help you. If symptoms are severe, call 911 and get help immediately.