Prevent, Treat Hypothermia
What do a sedentary person over 60, an infant under age one, and an outdoor athlete of any age all have in common? They are all subject to hypothermia, a condition that occurs when body temperature drops more than four degrees below the healthy norm of 98.6 degrees. The body, in effect, loses heat faster than it can be replaced.
Elderly adults who are sick, frail, very old, or can't afford enough heat are at a special risk. The National Institute on Aging estimates that about 10 percent of all persons over 65 have some sort of temperature-regulating defect and between three and four percent of all hospital patients over 65 are hypothermic. Infants can be affected because they do not have efficient internal body mechanisms that detect body temperature decreases. And athletes who exercise outside in extremely low temperatures, or any person who gets wet outside on a cold day, are also susceptible to hypothermia.
The condition can be fatal. Hypothermia victims die because they or those around them do not recognize the symptoms. Here's how to tell if someone is suffering from hypothermia:
• Neck, arm, and leg muscles are unusually stiff, often accompanied by a fine trembling on one side of the body or one arm or leg
• Victims are shivering to keep warm. (Older adults may not shiver; however, this does not guarantee the person is not becoming hypothermic. Watch for other symptoms.)
• Face is puffy or swollen.
• Victim has poor coordination and jerky movements.
• Breathing and heart rate are slowed.
• Skin is cool or cold, especially on the stomach, lower back, arms, legs, hands, and feet. Skin color can be very pale or have large, irregular blue or pink spots.
• Consciousness may be depressed, although some victims are still conscious and reactive when their body temperatures reach as low as 80 degrees.
• Victim is increasingly confused and disoriented, unable to think logically. Memory is also affected as familiar things are forgotten.
• Victims are often apathetic, may behave strangely, become irritable, hostile, mean, and aggressive. They seem not to care what happens and do not try to reduce their own danger.
What to do
If you sense someone is suffering from hypothermia, call an ambulance or rescue squad immediately. Until help arrives, you can assist in the following ways:
• Get the person out of the cold and remove any wet clothes.
• Be very careful handling the person as the heart is very weak when the body is cold.
• Insulate the victim with available covering such as blankets, towels, pillows, scarves or newspapers.
• DO NOT try to rewarm the victim with hot baths, electric blankets, and hot water bottles.
• DO NOT give the victim any food or drink.
• If the victim is unconscious, DO NOT raise the feet as cold blood will flow from the legs to the body "core" and further depress the body temperature.
How to protect yourself
Here are some suggestions to protect yourself or someone you know from getting hypothermia:
• If you live alone, arrange for someone to check daily.
• Insulate your home properly, paying particular attention to caulking.
• Use extra blankets during sleep.
• Eat nutritious food and exercise moderately.
• Get proper rest.
• Drink adequate amounts of liquids, especially water.
• Limit alcohol consumption, especially when you are outside. Alcohol increases the rate at which the body loses heat and diminishes the body's ability to shiver.
• On a cold or windy day, layer clothing with a waterproof outer layer and two or more insulating inner layers. Keep clothing loose enough to maintain air between the layers and allow for adequate circulation.
• Runners, run against the wind first when your body is warmer, and run with the wind later.
Like most conditions, understanding is key to preventing hypothermia. Keep warm and keep safe!
Sources: University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics (www.uihealthcare.com)
Hypothermia in the Newborn (http://who.int/reproductive-health/publications/MSM_97_2_Thermal_protection_of_the_newborn/MSM_97_2_chapter2.en.html)
“It’s a Dry Cold! Hypothermia and the Athlete,” by Gordon G. Giesbrecht, Ph.D., Health Leisure and Human Performance Research Institute, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada
Tags: Frostbite , Health , Body Temperature , Shivering , Bull
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