|Hypothermia, a condition that occurs when the body temperature falls below the normal range, is caused by a low surrounding temperature and can lead to death. Freezing temperatures cause frostbite, whereby ice forms in the body tissue and destroys it. The risk of frostbite is increased by windy conditions.
CAUSES OF HYPOTHERMIA
Hypothermia (low temperature) occurs when the body temperature falls below normal range, and can lead to death. The average temperature of a healthy adult is 96.8-100.4°F. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature falls below 95°F. Survival is unlikely, but not unheard of, below 79°F.
There are number of factors that heighten the risk of becoming hypothermic. These include
The elderly are greater risk from hypothermia: low mobility combined with poor circulation, a reduced sensitivity to the cold, and greater potential for slips and falls means that an elderly person may develop hypothermia in temperatures that a healthy younger adult could tolerate.
The very young are also at an increased risk because the mechanisms for controlling their own body temperature are poorly developed. They may look healthy but their skin will feel cold and their behavior may be abnormally quiet or listless.
- Exposure to wind or rain
- Immersion in cold water
- Lack of food
- Alcohol and drugs
If a person is suffering from hypothermia, replace damp clothing if necessary, wrap up well, and give high energy foods and hot drinks to restore body temperature to normal.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF HYPOTHERMIA
- Pale, cold skin
- Cold environment
- Presence of an increased risk factor as listed left
As the condition gets worse:
- No shivering, even though the person is cold
- Increasing drowsiness
- Irrational behavior and confusion
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Slow, weak pulse
If the person is unconscious
Open the airway and check for breathing. Be prepared to resuscitate if necessary. Hypothermia slows the body’s functions down before stopping the heart, and it is therefore not uncommon to hear for people with hypothermia being successfully resuscitated some time after the heart has stopped.
If the person is conscious
- Improve the surroundings. If the person is outdoors, bring them in or take them to shelter. If the person is indoors, warm the room but do not overheat (77°F).
- Replace wet clothes with dry warm clothing if possible.
- A healthy adult may be best re warmed by soaking in a warm bath of 104°F. Do not use this technique on an elderly person or a child.
- Wrap the person up and give high energy foods and warm drinks. Remember that heat is lost through the extremities so cover the head, hands, and feet.
- Check for the other conditions or injuries that may have occurred. The confusion caused by hypothermia may mask other sign and symptoms. If there is no improvement, or the level of consciousness deteriorates, seek medical advice. For young children and the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable, always seek medical attention if you suspect hypothermia. Warm them slowly.
Keep the person warm and provide with high energy foods and warm drinks.
Frostbite occurs in freezing conditions and is the freezing of the body tissue at the extremities, most commonly the fingers, toes, and earlobes. If it is not treated early enough it can lead to gangrene and top amputation. Frostbitten skin is highly susceptible to infection.
- Remove tight items such as rings and watches that may further damage circulation. Warm the injured part slowly by holding it.
- Get the person to shelter. Do not attempt to thaw the injured part if it is liable to be re-exposed to cold, because this will do more damage.
- Handle the injured part carefully because the tissue is very fragile and may be easily damaged. Do not apply direct heat, rub or allow the injured person to apply pressure to (for example, do not let the person walk if the toes are affected). Place the injured part in warm water if available. Otherwise continue warming the uninjured part with your hand.
- Pat dry and then cover with a light gauze bandage. Remember that the injured part will exceptionally painful for the victim.
- Raise the injured part to help alleviate pain and swelling and allow the injured person to take acetaminophen if able to.
- Watch for hypothermia and treat as appropriate.
- Seek medical attention, particularly if the site of the freezing does not regain a healthy color is black.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF FROSTBITE
As the condition gets worse
When thawed, the injures part is extremely painful and there may be blistering of the skin.
- Hardening of the skin
- Skin color changes to whit through blue and finally black