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How to Prevent and Treat Hypothermia

Hypothermia is both preventable and easily treatable in its early stages, but if ignored, can rapidly progress - and even become fatal. If you are planning on spending any time outdoors this winter, these tips from House Call Doctor will help you learn how to identify, prevent, and treat hypothermia.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,
November 27, 2014
Episode #173

It’s the holidays - a time of family and festivities. In many parts of the country, it's also the time of year when temperatures really start to drop, and when some areas kick off snow season...and hypothermia season.

Hypothermia is easily preventable, and easily treatable in its early stages. But if ignored, it can rapidly progress - and even become fatal. (It's also important to note that accidental hypothermia occurs throughout the entire world, even in places with warmer climates.) If you are planning on spending any time outdoors this winter, it's crucial to learn what exactly hypothermia is, and how to prevent and treat it in both yourself and your loved ones..

What is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is the cooling of the body temperature to below normal levels, which is defined as below 95 degrees Farenheit, or 35 degrees Celsius. (Normal body temperature is defined as 98.6 degrees F.arenheit.) The severity of hypothermia depends on how much below 95 degrees a person is, and the categorized as mild, moderate, or severe hypothermia accordingly.

The danger occurs because when the body cools down to that level, if often has a difficult time warming up by itself - which is why it can be potentially fatal, if not treated quickly and appropriately.

Symptoms of Hypothermia

It’s always best to deal with hypothermia early on, since the earlier you treat it, the less the chance of complications and risks. Therefore, it’s vital to recognize any early symptoms and seek medical care immediately. Here are some potential symptoms of hypothermia:

  • Shivering (be careful, though, as not everyone with hypothermia shivers)
  • Numb hands or feet
  • Bluish skin discoloration
  • Confusion
  • Memory changes
  • Loss of balance
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Frequent urination
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Hallucinations

Note that once hypothermia progresses, people can stop shivering and can even become unconscious.

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