Hypothermia (Extended Exposure to Cold) (cont.)
Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.
In this Article
- What is hypothermia?
- What are the risk factors for hypothermia?
- What body parts are more susceptible to hypothermia?
- What causes hypothermia?
- What are the signs and symptoms of hypothermia?
- What are the symptoms of hypothermia in infants and children?
- Can a person experience hypothermia indoors?
- When should I call my doctor for hypothermia?
- How is hypothermia diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for hypothermia?
- Home remedies for hypothermia
- What items should I have to be prepared to prevent hypothermia?
- What is the prognosis for hypothermia?
- Find a local Doctor in your town
What is the treatment for hypothermia?
For severe cases of hypothermia, treatment begins immediately in the field by careful handling of the patient to avoid developing ventricular fibrillation or any other cardiac dysrhythmia that hypothermic patients are prone to develop. Place the patient in an environment that is warm; remove all wet clothing and replace it with dry towels and blankets or sleeping bags. Simultaneously, be aware that the patient may have suffered other problems, like trauma and these problems may also need immediate attention (respiratory and/or cardiac failure).
External rewarming can begin prior to hospital arrival with warm packs (warm water bottles, warm chemical packs) placed on the person's armpits, groin, and abdomen. Be sure the warm packs (about 105.8 F or 41 C) are not hot to avoid skin burns. Do not attempt to warm extremities by rubbing them.
Core temperatures should be measured by a rectal, bladder, or esophageal thermometer. Do not use tympanic or skin thermometers. Hypothermic induced dysrhythmias have been treated with bretylium, but this drug may not be available as it is no longer being manufactured.
Learn more about: bretylium
After warming has begun with dry coverings, most guidelines recommend using warm humidified oxygen and heated intravenous saline (heated to about 113 F or 45 C) as additional treatments. In severe cases of hypothermia others also suggest instilling warm fluid into the patient's bladder. Thoracic lavage (flushing the thoracic [chest] region with warm water) with isotonic saline (pre-warmed to about 105.8 F or 41 C) has also been done.
Patients with mild to moderate hypothermia (95 F to 89.9 F or 35 C to 32.16 C) and no other injuries or problems require less drastic methods to rewarm. Patients whose body temperature normalizes by gradually rewarming in a warm, dry room with towels and blankets, usually do not need admission to the hospital. However, those with more severe hypothermia may need to be observed in the hospital.
Ideally, treatment will allow the body to return to its normal temperature. At normal temperature, the symptoms of hypothermia should gradually disappear. Consequently, the saying in most emergency departments that treat hypothermic patients is that "the hypothermic patient is not dead until they are warm and dead."
Home remedies for hypothermia
The best home remedy for hypothermia is simply to avoid those conditions that result in hypothermia such as not dressing appropriately for cold weather.
However, if you find someone that is possibly suffering from hypothermia the first priority is to check for breathing, a pulse and if necessary, begin cardiac resuscitation. If possible, help should be called for (911). The next step is to rewarm the person as described above. If the person developed symptoms of moderate to severe hypothermia, they should be evaluated by a medical professional as soon as possible.
What items should I have to be prepared to prevent hypothermia?
Preventing hypothermia is possible.
- Before participating in any cold-weather activities make sure that you are in good physical condition and have the right clothing and nutrition before engaging in such activities.
- If you go camping or hiking in cold-weather, travel with a partner for safety and let people know where you are going.
- Multiple layers of clothing that are loose fitting and tend to remain dry are the best for cold-weather activities. Note that rain and wind can markedly increase the rate of heat loss from the body, so if these conditions develop, you need to be prepared to stay warm and dry.
- For individuals that have a higher risk for hypothermia (elderly and young children, for example), during wintry weather, keep homes heated to about 21.1 C (70 F), especially in the bedrooms at night.
What is the prognosis for hypothermia?
If the person with mild hypothermia is treated quickly, does not require hospitalization, and has little or no residual problems, the prognosis is usually very good. However, some patients may suffer from extremity damage due to frostbite while others may be more prone to develop hypothermia in the future. People that have concurrent problems (alcoholism, psychiatric problems, advanced age or are homeless) have a worse prognosis. They may have mortality rate as high as about 40%.
Medically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventative Medicine with Subspecialty in Occupational Medicine
NYU Department of Pediatrics. Hypothermia.
UpToDate. Clinical manifestations of hypothermia in children.
Find out what women really need.