What is hypothermia?
Hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature falls below 35°C. The normal body temperature is around 37°C (95°F). If the body loses heat faster than it produces, then it’s a medical emergency called hypothermia. If left untreated, it can lead to complete heart failure, affecting the respiratory system and eventually resulting in death. The common causes of hypothermia are extremely cold weather or immersion in cold water. Prolonged exposure to very cold temperatures, more than your body can sustain, causes hypothermia. Lengthy exposure will eventually use up your body’s stored energy without gaining any. The body temperature will drop, making you feel unwell. Major complications include a drop in body temperature, which leads to dysfunction in the heart, nervous system, and other organs that can’t work normally. It is particularly dangerous as it affects your cognitive ability to think clearly or move well. A person may not be able to discern what is happening in their surroundings, and they won’t be able to respond efficiently. Hypothermia can also occur at cool temperatures if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water without something to warm them up after a certain period has passed.
Symptoms of Hypothermia
Hypothermia has mild, moderate, and severe stages. It can be grouped by the degree of body temperature, ranging from 35-32°C, 23-28°C, and below 28°C. If a person experiences the following signs and symptoms, it could be hypothermia and not just simply feeling cold. For infants, the warning signs of hypothermia are bright red, cold skin, and very low energy.
A person experiencing mild hypothermia will be shivering from the cold. Because of the drop in body temperature, particularly lower than normal temperatures, the body’s response is shivering and extreme numbness. It will be difficult to react normally. The movement will be slower or restricted, or in serious cases, halted.
Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include slowed heart rate and low blood pressure. The heart beats slowly or irregularly, affecting the lungs and resulting in the person’s breathing slowing down. In mild hypothermia, the person may experience increased heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure; if it’s mild, they might stop shivering but still exhibit a slowed heart rate, breathing rate, and low blood pressure.
Speech and cognitive function can be impacted when bodily processes move more slowly than usual. Hypothermia frequently presents with slurred, slow speech or mumbling. It will be challenging for the person to speak as loudly and clearly as usual and to pronounce words correctly.
Exhaustion is a common symptom of hypothermia. When the body temperature continues to decrease, it causes the person to be low on energy. Body movements are involuntarily restricted, making it difficult to balance, control, and react quickly, causing them to feel exhausted and battered. If it’s moderate hypothermia, a person may also be on the verge of losing consciousness.
A person experiencing hypothermia might lose their balance and unavoidably become clumsy. Common signs are fumbling hands and stumbling. Hypothermia affects motor skills, making the person less agile than usual, decreasing reflexes and losing balance and coordination.
Drowsiness is shown in someone with hypothermia. A person with hypothermia feels sluggish in their movements and slow in response. They can be inert and lethargic, lacking the strength to move around and constantly losing energy and body control.
A person undergoing hypothermia may feel confused. As it progresses, it affects the mental status and goes through changes like memory loss, confusion, short attention span, forgetfulness, lack of judgement and ability to think clearly.
slow and weak pulse
Someone who has excessive fatigue and a slow and weak pulse may also be hypothermic. One of the severe symptoms of hypothermia is unconsciousness. If the person is no longer responding, you must seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Paradoxical undressing or removal of clothing typically occurs as a result of moderate or severe hypothermia. It is very dangerous and life-threatening when it reaches this stage. Discarding the clothing increases the rate of heat loss, which makes it easier and faster for the body to drop the temperature and make them feel numb and cold. It is an effect of hypothermia that the person becomes disoriented and confused.
Mild hypothermia is when the body’s degree temperature is from 32 to 35 °C. It is usually easy to treat. Early signs of hypothermia include shivering from coldness, faster heart rate and rapid breathing as the body goes through drastic changes in temperature. Muscle tone also increases. The skin turns pale and dry. When touched, it’s cold as blood vessels constrict.
The most obvious signs of moderate hypothermia are a slower heart and breathing rate and increased susceptibility to abnormal heart rhythms. When it’s slowed down, it affects speech and cognitive ability, resulting in lethargy, low energy, decreasing reflexes, declining consciousness, confusion, and loss of awareness. Moderate hypothermia also lowers blood pressure making the person more vulnerable and susceptive to fainting or becoming dizzy.
The risk of death increases as the body temperature drops below 28°C and it is considered a severe case of hypothermia. It is life-threatening and may result in death if the person isn’t urgently attended to. A person will be extremely cold to the touch, inflexible, not breathing, have no pulse, and their pupils will be fixed at this temperature (eyes are unresponsive to light). Though they might not actually be dead, they will seem to be.
The symptoms of severe hypothermia are continued decline in blood flow to the brain, leading to unresponsiveness and unconsciousness, losing the inability to respond or react, an irregular heartbeat before ultimately stopping if the person gets too cold, lung congestion, loss of reflexes and ultimately, failure of heart and lung function.