Editor's Note: As winter sweeps through the country, it’s important to be smart about keeping yourself and young kids warm during outdoor activities. Whether you’re skiing, ice fishing or playing outside, it's useful to know the signs of hypothermia and how to treat it. We reached out to Dr. Basu for some information about hypothermia. With over 15 years of clinical experience in the New York area, he knows all about the cold.
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First, can you please explain what is the difference between hypothermia and frostbite?
Hypothermia is defined as the drop in core body temperature below 35C (95F) when body gets very cold and can’t warm up on its own. Frostbite is the freezing of the specific part of the body like fingers, toes, nose etc. without drop in core body temperature. Hypothermia is graded as:
Mild hypothermia – Core temperature 32 to 35ºC (90 to 95ºF);
Moderate hypothermia – Core temperature 28 to 32ºC (82 to 90ºF);
Severe hypothermia – Core temperature below 28ºC (82ºF)
What are some clear/telltale symptoms?
Symptoms can include: Shivering or shaking, (but if hypothermia becomes severe, the person might actually stop shivering), trouble with speaking clearly, faster breathing, mental confusion, clumsiness, and frequent urination.
What are more serious symptoms?
Severe hypothermia can cause fluid in the lungs, irregular heartbeats, drop in blood pressure, coma, lack of reflexes or jerking movements of the legs or arms, and decreased urination.
What should I do if I experience these symptoms?
You should try to move to the warmer place as soon as possible. Take off any wet clothes and drink warm beverages like coffee, tea, soup etc.
What should I do if someone I know experiences hypothermia?
Please do the same things as above. Move the person to the warm place, take off wet clothing, cover with blankets, and offer warm beverages. Very important, if you see or suspect frostbite at any part of the body, please do not rub or massage the area as that can cause worse damage. Please seek medical help immediately if the person is not responding well, or blacked out, has difficulty in breathing, and stopped shivering.
What risks does hypothermia present in kids?
Kids are more prone for hypothermia as their body surface area is less and makes it hard for them to stay warm longer. Kids also may not feel it when they get too cold.
How can hypothermia be prevented?
In most cases, you can prevent hypothermia by being careful not to stay out in the cold for too long. Be sure to dress warmly enough, and wear layers. Change out of wet clothes as quickly as possible.
You can prevent hypothermia by limiting outdoor stay in the cold. Please wear warm clothes, gloves, and hat before going out in the cold. Drink warm beverages. Dress in layers. And change your wet clothes as soon as possible. Kids should be dressed with warm clothes in layers, wear mittens, and hats.
What are some treatment options for hypothermia for adults and kids?
Severe hypothermia requires hospital admission for treatment and close monitoring until the patient is stabilized. Breathing support through the breathing tube may be required.
Hospital treatment of hypothermia might include any of the following:
(These measures are also known as passive rewarming measures. They are employed first for mild to moderate cases.)
Blankets, heating pads, warm baths, or heaters that blow warm air over the skin – these can all be used to help bring a person’s body temperature back up.
(The following measures are known as active rewarming measures reserved for more severe cases.)
Warm fluids through IV (a thin tube that goes into a vein) and Warm oxygen to breathe, or a breathing tube if needed; Warming the inside of the body with water – Warm salt water can be used to bring heat to the organs. The water goes into the body through a small tube, then back out.
Medicines – Sometimes medicines are needed to treat related issues like low blood pressure or heart problems or treat the serious underlying infections.
Blood rewarming – This is done with a special machine that draws blood out of the body, warms it up, and then puts it back in.
Are some people more susceptible to hypothermia than others?
Elderly people, children, people who have problems with alcohol, critically ill people (infection or hormonal disorders) are more susceptible to hypothermia. Prompt evaluation is required in such persons with signs of hypothermia.
Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us, Dr. Basu!