The facts of hypothermia

Hypothermia is when the body gets very cold and can’t warm up on its own, according to UpToDate, a medical website. It occurs when the body, normally at 98.6 degrees, drops below 95 degrees.

The young and elderly are more susceptible. Symptoms include shivering (but they might stop shivering if it becomes extreme), clumsiness, trouble speaking clearly, confusion, tiredness, breathing faster than usual and urinating more than usual.

To help someone who might have hypothermia, move them to a warmer place as soon as possible, take off any wet clothing, cover the person with blankets and offer warm beverages if the person is able to drink.

Hypothermia can cause serious problems, even death, if it is not treated quickly. It can happen after being in cold air or water for too long.

If a person shows signs of moderate or severe hypothermia, get medical care right away. Signs include passing out, trouble speaking or thinking clearly, clumsiness, ceasing of shivering and trouble breathing.

Treatment for hypothermia depends on its severity. In many cases, getting out of the cold and warming up with blankets can prevent the need for medical care.

Severe hypothermia needs to be treated in the hospital, where treatment can include blankets, heating pads or heaters that blow warm air, warm fluids through IV, warm oxygen to breathe and warming the inside of the body with warm salt water.

Blood rewarming can be done with a special machine that draws blood out of the body, warms it up and then puts it back in.

Babies and young children are more at risk because their bodies have a harder time keeping warm and they might not always notice when they are getting too cold. Children should dress warmly and shouldn’t play outside in the cold for too long without taking a break to warm up.

Elderly people also have a harder time than younger adults keeping warm, and may also have health issues or take medications that can affect body temperature. You can help older people by making sure that their homes are kept warm enough.

People who have problems with alcohol can also have a higher risk of getting hypothermia, because alcohol can make it harder to notice when your body is getting too cold.

Frostbite is damage to a body part caused by cold and it can be mild or severe. It is most common on the ears, nose, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes. Skin affected by frostbight might look white and feel numb or hard.

Symptoms of frostbite are cold numb skin that may look white or gray and feel hard or waxy, trouble moving the affected area, blisters with fluid or blood inside, or areas of black skin (this is a sign of severe frostbite.)

To help a person who might have frostbite, move them to a warmer place as soon as possible and take off any wet clothing. Try to warm up the affected area. To do that, put it in warm – not hot – water. Use body heat, such as putting cold fingers under the armpits.

Avoid things that could cause worse damage, such as walking on feet that have frostbite, unless necessary. Do not warm the area if it might get cold again before you can see a doctor or nurse. Do not rub the area and do not use a stove or fire to warm the area because numb skin can get burned by accident.

Frostbite can be treated by warming the affected area in water. This can hurt, but doctors can give medicine to help with pain. Medicine can be given to help with blood flow, since frostbite can cause blood clots in affected body parts.

Severe frostbite can kill tissue and the dead tissue sometimes falls off by itself, but doctors sometimes need to remove it through amputation.

Some people put lotion or ointment on the skin to prevent frostbite, but this might actually make frostbite more likely.

Prevent frostbite by dressing warmly, eating enough when out in the cold, avoiding alcohol or smoking, avoid contact with water or metal, tell people where you are going, and know the weather. In very cold and windy weather, frostbite can happen more quickly, within a few minutes.

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