It’s that time of year again! Colder temperatures have fallen over most of the United States. Some states have already had their first snowfall of the year which means knowledge of surviving hypothermia is a must. This time of year, people are at an increased risk for hypothermia – a huge threat to any outdoor survivalist! I’ll take you step by step to learn how you or loved ones can survive hypothermia if symptoms occur.
Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat. You can get hypothermia if you are exposed to cold weather or are immersed in a cold body of water such as a frozen lake or river. You can also get hypothermia if you are exposed to indoor temperatures below 50°F (10°C) for an extended period of time. The risk of developing hypothermia increases if you are exhausted or dehydrated. If left untreated, hypothermia can be life-threatening. Due to this, it is a good idea to always have a winter survival kit with you at all times when going out in the winter.
In this article, we’ll go over the symptoms of mild to moderate hypothermia. We will also discuss how to treat the symptoms of hypothermia while waiting for medical help to arrive such as:
- Calling 911
- Moving the person out of the cold
- Removing any wet clothing
- How to warm the person’s core gradually
- Giving the person warm, sweet, non-alcoholic drinks
- Keeping the person warm and dry
- Performing CPR
We’ll also go over what to do after medical help has arrived.
The Symptoms of Mild to Moderate Hypothermia
Get immediate medical attention if any of the following symptoms are present. Even if the person is suffering from mild hypothermia, you should seek medical care for them right away. Mild hypothermia can quickly turn into a more severe condition if it is not treated.
- Constant shivering
- Confusion or drowsiness
- Tiredness and low energy
- Cold or pale skin
- Slow or shallow breathing
- A person with moderate hypothermia will usually stop shivering completely and may have slurred speech or poor judgement. He may try to shed his clothing even though he is cold. These are signs his condition is deteriorating and require immediate medical attention.
Treating the Symptoms of Hypothermia While Waiting for Medical Help to Arrive
No matter what type of hypothermia the person is experiencing, it is important to call 911 for immediate medical care. The first half hour after the person’s symptoms become clear are the most critical phase of hypothermia management. You can treat the person while you wait for the ambulance or medical professionals to arrive.
Move the person out of the cold
Place the person in a room-temperature spot indoors. If going indoors isn’t possible, protect the person from the wind with other clothing, especially around their neck and head. Use towels, blankets, or other clothing to protect the person from the cold ground.
Note: Do not let the person help in their own treatment, as this will only expend more of their energy and worsen their condition.
Remove any wet clothing
Replace their wet clothing with warm, dry clothing or blankets.
Warm the person’s core up gradually
Avoid rewarming the person too quickly with a heating lamp or a hot bath. Instead, apply warm, dry compresses to the center of their body, on their neck, chest, and groin area. If you use hot water bottles or a hot pack, wrap them in a towel before applying them to these areas.
Do not attempt to warm their arms, hands, and legs. Heating or massaging these limbs can cause stress on their heart and lungs which could lead to other serious health issues.
Do not try to warm up the person by rubbing their body with your hands. This will only irritate his skin and cause shock to his body.
Give the person warm, sweet, non-alcoholic drinks
Ask them if they can swallow before you offer them any liquids or food. Herbal tea that is caffeine-free or hot water with lemon and honey are good options. Sugar in the beverage can help to boost energy. You can also offer them high energy foods like chocolate.
Avoid giving them alcohol as it will slow down the rewarming process. Don’t give them cigarettes or tobacco products. These products can interfere with their circulation and slow down the rewarming process.
Keep the person warm and dry
Once the person’s body temperature has increased and some of their symptoms have lessened, keep them wrapped in dry, warm blankets or towels until medical help arrives.
If the person is not breathing, coughing, or moving around and their pulse has slowed down, you may need to perform CPR.
**To perform CPR correctly:
- Locate the center of the person’s chest. Identify the space between their ribs, a bone called the sternum.
- Place the heel of one hand over the center of their chest. Put your other hand over the first and interlace your fingers. Keep your elbows straight and align your shoulders over your hands.
- Begin compressions. Push down on the center of their chest as hard as possible. Pump at least 30 times, hard and fast. Do this to rate of at least 100/minute. You can pump to the beat of the disco hit “Stayin’ Alive” to maintain a steady rhythm. Allow the person’s chest to rise fully after every pump.
- Tilt the person’s head back and lift their chin. Pinch their nose and cover their mouth with yours. Blow until you see their chest rise. Give two breaths. Each breath should take one second.
- CPR is to be continued for a prolonged period. There have been reports of younger patients with severe hypothermia surviving an hour of CPR. If there is another person present, try switching off performing CPR so you don’t become exhausted.
**Disclaimer: this is intended for informational purposes only. Before performing CPR please seek proper certification and training.
When Medical Help Arrives
Let the medical attendant determine the severity of the person’s condition
Once the ambulance arrives, the emergency medical technician, or EMT, will assess the person’s condition. A person with mild to moderate hypothermia and no other injuries or issues will likely not need to be taken to the hospital. The EMT may recommend more home treatment, with gradual rewarming of the person. But a person with more severe hypothermia will need to be observed in the hospital.
Allow the medical attendant to perform CPR if necessary
If you have called for an ambulance and the person is unconscious or unresponsive, the emergency medical technician will likely perform CPR.
Ask a doctor about a cardiopulmonary bypass if the hypothermia is severe
Once the person arrives as the hospital, speak to the doctor about possible treatment options, especially if the hypothermia is severe.
- Cardiopulmonary bypass is when blood is withdrawn from the body, warmed up, and then returned to the body. This is also known as extracorporeal membranous oxygenation (ECMO).
- This technique is only available at major hospitals that have specialist emergency services or units that regularly perform heart surgery.
- A person with severe hypothermia often stands a better chance of surviving if they are taken directly to one of these hospitals, even if it means bypassing a smaller hospital along the way. Alternatives to cardiopulmonary bypass include warmed iv fluids, chest tubes with warm irrigation, and/or warmed hemodialysis.