We don’t often associate hypothermia with simply being out in the cold too long. It’s often thought of as a condition that only becomes of Mount Everest climbers, arctic divers, and ice fishers. But the truth is, hypothermia can strike anywhere and to anyone who is exposed to freezing temperatures for too long.
When the body drop below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, it begins to enter a hypothermic state. This can happen slowly overtime, making it potentially difficult to detect. However, there are various signs and symptoms of hypothermia to be aware of, as well as ways to help prevent it from occurring.
Know the signs
According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the most common signs of hypothermia include shivering—your body’s natural defense against the cold—slurred speech, shallow breathing, tiredness, disorientation, bright red skin, and in some cases, a loss of consciousness.
Why it happens
Your body naturally produces heat, and the natural body temperature in humans is about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. When your body drops below that average temperature, it starts to respond with defenses (hence, why we shiver). But when your body is unable to combat the cold, basic functions begin to fail.
Your body can lose heat in a number of ways, including radiated heat from uncovered areas of your skin, through skin contact with something cold, or through extreme wind—which is why the wind chill is such an important number to pay attention to if you plan on being outdoors.
Who’s at risk
There are certain groups of people at a higher risk for hypothermia than others, such as the elderly or very young, people on certain medications, people who have been drinking, and people who are fatigued.
There are many ways to prevent hypothermia from occurring, including the obvious: don’t spend too much time outdoors in freezing temperatures. However, if you do plan to be outside in the cold, these are the precautions you should take.
- Cover as much of your skin as possible. Any skin that is exposed to the cold for too long puts you at risk.
- Avoid getting wet. If your clothes do get wet, remove them and replace with dry clothes, if possible.
- Protect your head, face, and neck—areas of the body that release the most heat.
- If you think your child has been playing in the snow too long, bring them inside to warm up every so often.
- Wear loose-fitting layers. Wool keeps the body warmer than cotton, and water-resistant coats and gloves can help wick away ice and snow from the skin.
The next time you plan to head outdoors for an extended period of time this season, keep these warning signs and tips in mind. And if you suspect you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of hypothermia, don’t hesitate to call for help.