For a good portion of the country cold temperatures are right around the corner, if they’re not here already! And did you know that cold weather can lower the temperature inside your body? This drop in body temperature is called hypothermia (hi-po-ther-mee-uh), and it can be deadly if not treated quickly.
Hypothermia can happen anywhere—not just outside and not just in northern
states. In fact, some people (especially older adults) can have a mild form of
hypothermia if the temperature in their home is too cool.
What Are the Signs of Hypothermia?
When you think about being cold, you probably think of shivering. That is one
way the body stays warm when it gets cold. But, shivering alone does not mean
you have hypothermia.
How do you know if someone has hypothermia?
Look for the “umbles”—
stumbles, mumbles, fumbles, and grumbles—these show that the cold is a
problem. Check for:
• Confusion or sleepiness
• Slowed, slurred speech, or shallow breathing
• Weak pulse
• Change in behavior or in the way a person looks
• A lot of shivering or no shivering; stiffness in the arms or legs
• Poor control over body movements or slow reactions
A normal body temperature is 98.6 °F. A few degrees lower, for example, 95 °F,
can be dangerous. It may cause an irregular heartbeat leading to heart problems
A BODY TEMP ONLY A
FEW DEGREES LOWER
THAN NORMAL CAN BE
DANGEROUS AND MAY
CAUSE AN IRREGULAR
TO HEART PROBLEMS
If you think someone could have hypothermia, use a
thermometer to take his or her temperature. Make sure you
shake the thermometer so it starts below its lowest point.
When you take the temperature, if the reading doesn’t rise
above 96 °F, call for emergency help. In many areas, that
means calling 911.
Some illnesses may make it harder for your body to stay
warm. These include problems with your body’s hormone
system such as low thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism),
health problems that keep blood from flowing normally
(like diabetes), and some skin problems where your body
loses more heat than normal.
Some health problems may make it hard for you to put on more
clothes, use a blanket, or get out of the cold.
• Severe arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, or other illnesses
that make it tough to move around
• Stroke or other illnesses that can leave you paralyzed
and may make clear thinking more difficult
• Memory loss
• A fall or other injury
While you are waiting for help to arrive, keep the person
warm and dry. Try and move him or her to a warmer place.
Wrap the person in blankets, towels, coats—whatever is
handy. Even your own body warmth will help. Lie close,
but be gentle. Give the person something warm to drink
but stay away from alcohol or caffeinated drinks, like
How Do I Stay Safe?
• Pay attention to how cold it is where you are. Check
the weather forecasts for windy and cold weather.
• Try to stay inside or in a warm place on cold and
windy days. If you have to go out, wear warm clothes
including a hat and gloves. A waterproof coat or jacket
can help you stay warm if it’s cold and snowy.
• Wear several layers of loose clothing when it’s cold. The
layers will trap warm air between them. Don’t wear
tight clothing because it can keep your blood from
flowing freely. This can lead to loss of body heat.
• Don’t make the mistake of thinking alcoholic drinks
will keep you warm. Alcoholic drinks can make you
lose body heat.
DRINK ALCOHOL MODERATELY, IF AT ALL.
ALCOHOLIC DRINKS CAN MAKE YOU LOSE BODY HEAT.
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