Hypothermia is a serious medical condition that can occur when the body temperature falls below 35 degrees Celsius. In hypothermia, the body’s core temperature drops, which can lead to heart problems, brain damage and even death. Despite its dangers, hypothermia is a surprisingly common occurrence, especially in colder climates. This blog post will provide an overview of what happens to the body during hypothermia and how to treat it.
What Happens to the Body During Hypothermia?
The average body temperature is 37°C (98.6°F). When your body temperature drops below 35°C, hypothermia sets in where the body loses heat more quickly than it generates it. Hypothermia can cause your heart and breathing system to completely shut down, which will ultimately result in your death. Thus, it is an urgent medical condition.
Rate of Hypothermia Fatalities in SA
South Australia had a rate of 3.9 fatalities from severe cold per 100,000 persons in 2014, according to a study’s findings. Elderly women who were indoors and living alone, sometimes with many underlying conditions and little interaction with the outside world, accounted for the majority of hypothermia-related deaths in SA. Older, socially isolated persons are more in danger of freezing to death.
Ways Heat is Lost From the Body
Body heat is needed for the body to function normally. It is lost, however, through several mechanisms like:
Radiation is the most important mechanism for heat loss in humans; it occurs when infrared radiation emitted from the body’s surface is transferred to cooler objects in the environment.
Heat is transmitted away from your body when it comes into direct contact with something extremely cold, like ice water or the ground. Body heat is lost considerably more quickly in cold water than in cold air because water is so effective at transporting heat away from your body. Similar to when you’re caught in the rain, heat loss from your body happens significantly more quickly if your garments are wet.
By taking away the tiny layer of heated air on the surface of your skin, wind dissipates body heat. An essential component is the wind chill.
Causes of Hypothermia
Most frequently, exposure to cold weather or cold water causes hypothermia. This can result from extended exposure to any environment that is colder than your body, especially if you are not properly dressed or are unable to manage the weather. The following circumstances can cause hypothermia:
- Wearing inappropriate clothing for the season
- Staying too long outside in the cold
- Being unable to change out of damp clothing or go somewhere warm and dry
- Slipping and falling, as in a boating accident
- Living in a home with little heating or excessive air conditioning makes it too chilly
Risk Factors of Hypothermia
There are several risk factors for hypothermia, including:
When you are exhausted because your body is not able to generate enough heat to keep itself warm. This can happen if you are working or exercising in cold weather without proper clothing or if you are exposed to cold water.
With ageing, the body’s capacity to control its internal temperature and detect cold may decline.
Children cool off more quickly than adults. Additionally, if kids are having too much fun, they could disregard the cold. There is a lack of sense to dress appropriately for the weather or leave the cold when they should.
People who have mental illnesses, dementia, or other diseases that impair judgment might not grasp the dangers of cold weather or how to dress correctly for the weather. Moreover, they could stray from home.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol may make you feel warm on the inside, but it also widens your blood vessels, which speeds up the rate at which heat escapes from the surface of your skin. A drunk individual who collapses outside in the cold is more likely to get hypothermic.
Certain Health Issues
Some medical conditions may make it harder to gauge how chilly it is outside, which can affect their choice of clothing and protection. A few examples are:
- Inadequate nutrition or anorexia nervosa
- Severe arthritis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Spinal cord injuries
Drugs that alter how well the body controls its temperature, for example, antipsychotics, sedatives, narcotic painkillers, and antidepressants.
If not given attention, hypothermia can result in a number of complications that can be difficult to reverse. These include:
An injury that occurs when skin and tissue are exposed to very cold temperatures. It most often affects the extremities, such as the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can also occur on other body parts that are exposed to the cold, such as the genitals.
A condition that results when your skin is exposed to cold, damp conditions. The exposure causes your blood vessels to constrict (narrow), which reduces blood flow to your skin. This can cause your skin to become red, itchy, and inflamed. In severe cases, chilblains can lead to blistering and ulceration.
Decay and death of tissue resulting from an interruption in blood flow. As a result of exposure to cold air or water, those who become hypothermic are also at risk for various cold-related injuries. Gangrene is tissue loss and death is one form.
Hypothermia can lead to organ failure by causing the body to go into shock, which can cause the blood vessels to constrict and restrict blood flow to the organs. Organ failure from hypothermia can also occur when the body’s metabolism slows down and the organs do not receive enough oxygen.
How to Prevent Hypothermia?
Before you or your children step out into cold air, remember the advice that follows with the simple acronym COLD — cover, overexertion, layers, dry:
Wear a hat or other protective covering to prevent body heat from escaping from your head, face and neck. Cover your hands with mittens instead of gloves.
Avoid activities that would cause you to sweat a lot. The combination of wet clothing and cold weather can cause you to lose body heat more quickly.
Dress comfortably in layers of loose-fitting, airy clothes. The ideal outerwear for wind protection is tightly woven, water-repellent fabric. Inner layers made of wool, silk, or polypropylene retain body heat better than cotton does.
Keep as dry as you can. As soon as you can, change out of your damp clothes. Maintaining dry hands and feet is especially important.
First Aid for Hypothermia
- Be kind. Handle a hypothermic person with care while providing assistance. Ensure that you only make required motions. Don’t rub or massage the individual. Movements that are excessive, violent, or jarring may result in cardiac arrest.
- Take the person indoors and out of the cold. If at all feasible, move the person to a warm, dry area. If you can’t get the individual out of the cold, try to keep them as warm and wind-free as you can. If at all feasible, maintain him or her in a horizontal position.
- Dry off the outfit. Remove whatever damp clothing the individual is wearing. If necessary, remove some garments to prevent excessive movement.
- Give the person a blanket. Warm up by layering dry blankets or jackets.
- Protect the body of the individual from the chilly ground. Lay the individual on his or her back on a blanket or other warm surface if you’re outside.
- Watch your breathing. A person with severe hypothermia could seem unconscious and show no outward evidence of breathing or having a pulse. If you are trained in CPR or certified from an Adelaide first aid course, start it right away if the person’s respiration has stopped or seems dangerously low or shallow.
- Offer hot drinks. Give the afflicted individual a warm, pleasant, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverage to help warm the body if they are conscious and able to swallow.
- Utilise dry, warm compresses. Use a first aid warm compress (a plastic bag filled with a warming liquid that expands when pressed), a homemade compress made of warm water in a plastic bottle, or a cloth that has been warmed in the dryer. Only apply a compress to the groin, chest wall, or neck.
- Avoid warm compressing of the arms or legs. The core body temperature falls as a result of the cold blood being forced back toward the heart, lungs, and brain by the application of heat to the arms and legs. This may be deadly.
- Avoid using direct heat. Avoid warming the individual with hot water, a heating pad, or a heating light. The intense heat might harm the skin or, worse, lead to severe irregular heartbeats that can stop the heart
First Aid Practices in Adelaide CBD
Since emergencies and fatalities due to frostbite can’t be avoided in SA, obtaining first aid training for yourself, your family and work qualifications can be beneficial. Save lives by getting certified in a basic life support course at Level 1/174 Gilles St, Adelaide 5000. You can also check our other locations across Australia for more information.