Hypothermia is a condition in which the body loses heat faster than it can be produced. It occurs at a temperature below 35 ° C, as a result of prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures. The most common causes of hypothermia are exposure to cold weather conditions (outdoors or poorly heated home) or cold water. It is gradual condition that is considered serve when body temperature falls below 30 ° C.

In the event of hypothermia, it is important to act quickly and seek medical attention. Failure to do so can result in complete failure of the heart and respiratory system and to death. If the hypothermic individual is unconscious, CPR should be given immediately until a pulse is felt. In cases of advanced hypothermia, hospital treatment is required to rewarm the individual to their normal body temperature. This is typically done through warmed IV fluids, heated and humidified oxygen, and other measures.

What are the symptoms associated with hypothermia?

Initially, symptoms of hypothermia present themselves as cold skin, paleness, chills, tiredness, shivering, rapid heartbeat and rapid breathing. When hypothermia reaches a more advanced stage, sweating may occur, as well as discoloration of the skin, tingling, joint pain, muscle stiffness, bradycardia, confusion and drowsiness.  

If the body temperature falls below 30°C, the victim will fall into a state of unconsciousness, which will slow down their vital signs (shallow or no breathing, weak or no pulse, dilated pupils) and may lead to cardiac arrest or even death.   

What to do

In the event of hypothermia, seeking immediate medical attention is vital. Until medical help arrives, the following guidelines should be performed:

  • Move the individual away from the cold environment to a warm and dry location
  • Remove the individual’s wet clothes and dress them with dry clothing
  • Cover the individual with blankets to heat up their body temperature
  • Apply warm compresses to the individual’s neck, chest wall or groin
  • Encourage the individual to shiver if they are capable of doing so
  • Monitor the individual’s breathing
  • Provide the individual with hot beverages (non-alcoholic) to drink to warm them up

It is advised to wear proper clothing outdoors in cold weather in order to avoid getting hypothermia. Due to the fact that this condition happens gradually, an individual might not even realize that they need help until it is too late.

What not to do

Instructions on what not to do in cases involving hypothermia include the following:

  • Never give the individual alcohol to drink
  • Avoid exposing the individual to excessive temperature changes
  • Avoid rubbing the individual’s hands and feet
  • Avoid using extremely hot water to warm up the individual

It is extremely important to avoid applying direct heat to the individual through hot water or heating pads. The extreme heat can cause damage the skin by opening up the blood vessels in the arms and legs too quickly and forcing the cold blood back towards the heart. This in turn can result in irregular heartbeats, dropped blood pressure to the vital organs, cardiac arrest or even death.


Disclaimer: The information in this article does not in any way replace the intervention or signs associated with this type of emergency, but rather only provides simple tips as how to keep the situation under control while waiting for a medical rescue team to arrive.