First Aid for Hypothermia

The human body maintains a normal temperature under most conditions. However, when we are exposed to unusually cold temperatures for prolonged periods, our body’s control machinery may fail to keep a healthy body temperature. Hypothermia can result when we lose more heat than our body can generate. Hypothermia occurs when our internal body temperature is less than 35 C (95 F).

Look for signs and symptoms

When giving first aid to a victim of hypothermia, you must first check some signs and symptoms. These include slurred speech, shivering, cold and pale skin, memory loss or confusion, loss of coordination, abnormally slow breathing, and fatigue or lethargy.

Symptoms progress gradually. Hypothermia victims usually experience loss of physical ability and mental acuity; they may be unaware they need emergency first aid treatment. Call for medical help as soon as possible if you observe any of these symptoms.

Seek a dry and warm place

The first thing you should do is to remove the person suffering from hypothermia from the elements that caused his or her condition. Do not administer the first aid treatment, for example, in the cold street where the person experiences the symptoms. You should seek a dry and warm place that is away from the contributing elements such as snow and cold wind.

Rewarming

Rewarming should occur to minimize after-drop potential. An after-drop is the further dropping of core temperature after the person is removed from the environment causing hypothermia. It is often the one responsible for the victims’ post-rescue collapse.

If the person suffering from hypothermia is wearing wet clothes, remove the clothes and wrap him or her in warm blankets and sleeping bags. You can also apply heat packs or warm water bottles to the victim’s abdomen, groin, armpits, and neck. If not available, you can use skin-to-skin contact. However, you must not place yourself at risk for hypothermia.

Use warming devices

If you put warming devices on the skin of the person suffering from hypothermia, you should watch the skin closely to avoid the risk of burning. Be aware that cold skin usually becomes anesthetic, with the victim not feeling the pain caused by a burn.

Do not move the person too aggressively

You should not move the person forcefully. Many victims of hypothermia develop heart rhythm disturbances when moved too aggressively. To avoid this, you should handle the victim’s body gently when moving it.