What is hypothermia?


Hypothermia in children: Overview

Hypothermia means that the body loses heat faster than it can make heat. It can happen when your child is exposed to cold air, water, wind, or rain.

Most healthy people with mild to moderate hypothermia recover fully and don't have lasting problems. Babies may be more at risk for hypothermia. This is because their bodies do not control temperature as well. Follow your doctor's advice for helping your child recover. And learn how to prevent hypothermia in the future.

What happens when you have hypothermia?

Hypothermia is an emergency condition and can quickly lead to unconsciousness and death if heat loss continues.

What are the symptoms of hypothermia?

Early symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering.
  • Cold, pale, or blue-gray skin.
  • Lack of interest or concern (apathy).
  • Poor judgment.
  • Mild unsteadiness in balance or walking.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Numb hands and fingers and problems performing tasks.

Late symptoms include:

  • The trunk of the body is cold to the touch.
  • Muscles becoming stiff.
  • Slow pulse.
  • Breathing that is shallow and slower.
  • Weakness or sleepiness.
  • Confusion.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Shivering, which may stop if body temperature drops below 90 F (32 C) .

How is hypothermia treated?

It is very important to know the symptoms of hypothermia and get treatment quickly. Often a hiker or skier's body temperature will drop really low before others notice that something is wrong. If someone begins to shiver violently, stumble, or can't respond to questions, it may be hypothermia. You need to quickly help the person get warm.

Sometimes a normal, healthy adult has a low body temperature, such as 96 F (36 C) . If the person with the low body temperature is not ill, does not have any other problems, and is not an infant or an older adult, then evaluation usually is not needed.

Medical treatment for hypothermia depends on the severity of the hypothermia.

If you have mild hypothermia, home treatment may be enough to bring your body temperature back up to normal. Treatment of mild hypothermia includes getting out of the cold or wet environment, using warm blankets, heaters, and hot water bottles.

Moderate to severe hypothermia generally is treated in the hospital, where doctors can use special techniques to warm the core body temperature.

How can you care for yourself when you have hypothermia?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids. Choose water and clear warm liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Get a lot of rest at home, and stay warm.

To prevent hypothermia

  • Avoid illegal drugs and too much alcohol. They can make you more likely to get hypothermia.
  • Cover your head, hands, and feet in cold or wet weather.
  • Try not to sweat a lot if you are out in the cold.
  • Stay as dry as possible.
  • Wear layers of loose-fitting clothing.
  • Pack a kit in your car that has items you will need to stay warm. It may include fire-starting kits and a lighter, extra clothing, drinking water, and food. You also can bring a sleeping bag. Two people can warm up more easily by sharing the bag.

If you see symptoms in someone who has been in cold weather, keep the person warm and dry and get help quickly. Symptoms include shivering, cold and pale skin, and slurred speech.

What increases your risk of hypothermia?

Anyone can get hypothermia. Very young children and older people can be at higher risk. This is because their bodies may not be able to control temperature as well. And some people have medical conditions or take medications that may increase their risk. People who spend lots of time outdoors may also increase their risk of hypothermia. This may happen when they are not dressed warmly enough and aren't prepared for colder temperatures.

Most healthy people with mild to moderate hypothermia recover completely without permanent injury. Recovery is harder for babies and older, ill, or inactive adults.

What is hypothermia?

Hypothermia occurs when the body gets cold and loses heat faster than the body can make it.

A body temperature below normal can be a sign of hypothermia.

A rectal temperature is considered the most accurate body temperature. A normal rectal body temperature ranges from 97.5 F (36.4 C) to 99.6 F (37.6 C) , and for most people it is 98.6 F (37 C) .

What causes hypothermia?

Hypothermia can occur when you are exposed to cold air, water, wind, or rain.

Your body temperature can drop to a low level at temperatures of 50 F (10 C) . Your body temperature can drop even if it is warmer than 50 F (10 C) if you are out in wet and windy weather. If you're in water that is 60 F (16 C) to 70 F (21 C) , you are also at risk for hypothermia.

But hypothermia can occur indoors, especially in babies and older or ill adults who are not dressed warmly enough.

Hypothermia: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are confused or have trouble thinking.
  • You are shivering and cannot stop.
  • You are feeling clumsy and not able to complete simple tasks.
  • You stop shivering because of low body temperature.
  • You have trouble breathing.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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