Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it produces heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia (hi-poe-THUR-me-uh) occurs as your body temperature falls below 95 F (35 C).
Hypothermia can happen to anyone, but it’s most common in people who are exposed to cold weather or cold water for a long period of time. People who are at risk for hypothermia include:
- Children: Children lose heat more quickly than adults because they have a larger surface area to body mass ratio.
- Older adults: Older adults have a harder time regulating their body temperature.
- People with certain medical conditions: People with conditions that affect their circulation, such as diabetes or heart disease, are at an increased risk for hypothermia.
- People who are taking certain medications: Some medications, such as sedatives and tranquilizers, can make it more difficult for the body to generate heat.
- People who are injured: People who are injured, such as after a fall or car accident, are more likely to develop hypothermia because their body loses heat more quickly.
Hypothermia can be mild, moderate, or severe. The symptoms of hypothermia vary depending on the severity of the condition.
- Mild hypothermia: Symptoms of mild hypothermia include shivering, slurred speech, and clumsiness.
- Moderate hypothermia: Symptoms of moderate hypothermia include confusion, loss of coordination, and slurred speech.
- Severe hypothermia: Symptoms of severe hypothermia include unconsciousness, slow breathing, and a loss of pulse.
If you think you or someone you know has hypothermia, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. Hypothermia can be fatal if not treated.
There are a few things you can do to prevent hypothermia:
- Dress in layers: This will help you trap heat.
- Wear a hat, scarf, and gloves: These will help protect your head, neck, and hands, which are the areas that lose heat the fastest.
- Stay dry: Wet clothing can rob your body of heat quickly.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine: These substances can make you lose heat more quickly.
- Eat regular meals: This will help your body generate heat.
- Stay active: This will help you generate heat.
If you find yourself in a cold environment, it’s important to stay calm and to take steps to warm up. If you start to shiver, this is a sign that your body is trying to warm itself up. Don’t try to stop shivering, as this will only make it harder for your body to warm up. Instead, focus on getting warm by dressing in layers, staying dry, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine.
A medical expert, like a doctor, is best able to help you find the information and care you need. This information does not constitute medical advice or diagnosis.
Some signs of hypothermia include:
- Exhaustion or feeling very tired
- Fumbling hands
- Memory loss
- Slurred speech
- Loss of coordination
- Stumbling steps
- A slow, weak pulse
- Pale and cool to touch
- Numbness in the extremities
- Sluggish responses
Hypothermia is a dangerously low body temperature, below 95°F (35°C). Depending on the conditions, hypothermia can occur within minutes to hours, or slowly over days to weeks. In the air, hypothermia can develop in as little as five minutes in temperatures of minus -50°F/-45.5°C in people who are not dressed properly and have exposed skin.