Individuals exposed to extreme cold or cold-water immersion are susceptible to hypothermia. People who wear inadequate clothing while working in cold-weather environments (e.g., outdoors, freezers, packing plants, fisheries, etc.) for long periods of time are also susceptible. Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it produces it (CDC 2016). The average body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (⁰F); hypothermia begins when body temperature drops to 95⁰F and below (Figure 1). Lower body temperatures prevent normal functioning of your heart, nervous system, and other organs and can lead to heart and respiratory-system failure (Magid 2016). Symptoms
In adults, hypothermia symptoms include (Magid 2016):
- Confusion or memory loss.
- Slurred speech or mumbling.
- A weak pulse.
- Clumsiness or lack of coordination.
- Low energy or drowsiness.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Bright red/cold skin on children and infants (CDC 2016).
If you come across someone who exhibits signs of hypothermia, do not wait! Call 9-1-1 or seek medical help immediately. While waiting for emergency responders (CDC 2016):
- Gently move the person to a warm room or shelter.
- Remove any wet clothing the person is wearing.
- Cover the person with blankets, leaving her or his face uncovered.
- If the person is alert, give her or him a warm beverage but no alcohol!
- Monitor the person’s breathing. If the person stops breathing and you are trained, begin administering CPR. Don’t stop CPR unless the person begins breathing on her or his own or another emergency responder takes your place.
Recognizing and responding to hypothermia emergencies is a good way to prepare for cold-weather situations. However, the best defense is prevention. To prevent hypothermia (Magid 2016):
- Cover your head, neck, and face when working in cold conditions.
- Avoid activities in cold environments that cause excessive sweating while wearing coats or jackets.
- Keep your clothing dry. Wet clothing in cold weather can cause body temperatures to drop quickly.
- Dress in layers to trap heat near your body. Wool, silk, or polypropylene hold heat better than cotton.
- Wear water-repellent/resistant outer clothing.
- Have extra clothing to change into when your task is done.