Hypothermia Poses Real Threat to Many Unsuspecting Individuals

Small mishaps such as lost keys, inadequate clothing put people at risk

1164513594DAYTON, Ohio (Feb. 4, 2020) – Hypothermia’s real danger is the illusion it creates in the minds of those on the brink of developing the life-threatening condition.

Hypothermia develops when a person’s body is losing heat faster than it can generate it. The condition occurs when a person is exposed to cold temperatures for a prolonged period of time, causing their body temperature to drop to less than 95 degrees.

Certain factors such as a person’s age or health can place them at a greater risk of developing hypothermia; however; even small mishaps can lead the strong and healthy to fall victim to the condition.

“A situation I see a lot in my work in the emergency department is a person who has become stranded outside for one reason or another and is a normally healthy person who just underestimated the risk of hypothermia in their situation,” said Kimberly Wascak, MD, medical director of Austin Boulevard Emergency Center.

A runner who underdressed and then gets lost, a person who is accidentally locked out of their home, a baby sleeping in a cold bedroom or a person who ignores the warning signs that hypothermia is impending are examples of how the condition can strike the unsuspecting, said Dr. Wascak.

Hypothermia is categorized by its severity and the degree to which the body temperature has declined. Understanding its symptoms may help individuals recognize how serious the situation is and how urgently medical help is needed, she said.

Mild hypothermia – At this stage, a person’s body temperature has dropped three to eight degrees below the normal of 98.6 degrees. A person is awake, but is still shivering, and may become mentally confused.

Moderate hypothermia – A person’s body temperature drops below 90 degrees, and the individual begins losing conscience or may not even be awake.

Severe hypothermia – Also called profound hypothermia, this is when a patient is completely unconscious, is no longer shivering, and their body temperature has fallen below 82 degrees.

Regardless of the stage, Dr. Wascak said individuals should listen to their body at the first sign that it is struggling to heat up against the cold.

“The first sign of hypothermia is known as cold stress,” she said. “We’ve all felt it at times when our body begins shivering to generate the heat it needs to maintain its temperature.”

Those who think someone near them is becoming hypothermic should take immediate action: bring a person indoors to warm up, immediately remove any wet clothing, and cover them with blankets to bring warmth to the center of their body. Medical help should be sought right away if the person shows any signs of confusion and is experiencing trouble breathing.

"Hypothermia can affect every organ in the body,” Wascak said. “People who experience hypothermia can have significant neurological impairment afterwards.”

The best way to prevent hypothermia is to be prepared. This is especially important in a society where increased connectivity through technology creates the impression that help is always a phone call away.

“I practice this myself,” Dr. Wascak said. “I always keep a pair of warm pants, a hat, gloves and an extra warm coat in my car all the time. I realize there are times I could be at risk for hypothermia, especially because I work night shift. Sometimes, I’m coming in and out in the middle of the night when I could be caught on the side of the road.”

For more information about hypothermia or other health issues go to PremierHealth.com/Your-Health.

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