- First Aid
The Deadly Hypothermia
- Poem: Tail of winter
Toronto is Canada's largest city and the capital of Ontario, located northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. Winter in the city, which starts from December and usually ends by early March is cold and often snowy. Daytime temperatures...
In The News
Toronto: Two men died of extreme cold this last week only. One of them was found in a bus shelter wearing only jeans and shirt and the other one was found in a delivery truck parked in the city’s west end.
The city would usually issue a cold weather alert when temperature is expected to drop from freezing to deep freeze and that’s on a -15°C threshold. The warning is issued in order to allow deployment of additional resources for the homeless and in order for the warming centers and other outreach places to prepare and accommodate people who doesn’t have a place to stay warm.
Canada’s winter is brutal and warming centers would usually open only when the extreme weather alert is issued and that is when the mercury dips down to -15°C or when Environment Canada forecast includes some wind chill factor and precipitation.
It’s bitterly cold the last few days and it will remain so until Mother Nature decides to settle. It is -17°C at the time of this writing but with the wind chill factor, it felt more like -30°C. Grrrr!!!
If you are in a very cold environment (as I am), we are at risk of hypothermia. Staying indoors and in a much warmer place is very much recommended. The homeless and those who work outside are particularly at risk as our infants and seniors.
What is hypothermia?
As per medical dictionary, hypothermia is a potentially fatal condition that can occur when body temperature falls below 35°C (95°F).
Our normal body temperature (core) is at 37°C (98.6 °F). When the body’s core temperature drops more than two degrees, body tissues cannot function properly. This condition is called hypothermia or in layman’s term, the exposure to cold.
What leads to hypothermia?
The key factors are:
7 ways to keep you warm during the cold winter days:
- Bundle up. Dress in layers and make sure to cover every inch of your skin.
- Windproof jacket is great, put on a hat to cover your head, most body heat is lost through the head. Wear gloves or mittens and boots. Put on some earmuffs.
- Choose wool or synthetic materials.
- Stay dry and indoors as much as possible.
- Set your heater to at least 21°C particularly if you have infants or elderlies at home. Hypothermia can happen at under 10°C, so it's a threat even with above-average winter temperatures.
- Eat high energy food, such as nuts and raisins.
- Avoid drinking alcohol.
Smoke, alcohol, coffee or any other drinks with caffeine can increase heat loss. Don’t give the person suffering from hypothermia any of these. ~
Why should we avoid drinking alcohol in the cold environment?
Drinking alcohol causes our blood vessels to dilate. Thus, giving the illusion that it is providing heat but actually, our blood vessels’ dilation in the skin takes heat from the body's core, thereby, causing a drop on our body temperature and if expose to the cold will make our body susceptible to hypothermia.
As well, the illusion of warmth due to alcohol consumption can cause impaired judgment and poor analytical skills. So, an intoxicated person is more likely to go out in the cold without properly dressing up for the weather exacerbating the chances for hypothermia.
Who can have hypothermia?
Hypothermia is not only related to outdoor. During wintertime and when the environmental temperature gets to the freezing mark, hypothermia is the most obvious thing to look for. Remember, as soon as you begin to shiver in a very cold environment, your first instinct should be, “to avoid or further prevent heat loss”. If not, hypothermia will soon affect you mentally and physically and chances are, you might not be able to think clearly enough to take the right actions.
Hypothermia does not discriminate. Anyone can become hypothermic but the following are especially prone to it:
- Infants – because they lose heat more quickly and they do not have the ability to recover from the cold and their bodies do not control heat as well.
- Elderly people – because they often have poor circulation and less ability to sense the cold. They can also be on medication that promotes heat loss.
- Sick people – because they are most likely to be weak already due to illness.
- Teenagers – because they often do not dress for the season and would prefer a more fashionable outfit not minding the cold.
Hypothermia affects us physically, physiologically and mentally. It is sometimes mistaken for other conditions like drunkenness, stroke and drug abuse. Thus, it is important to recognize its signs and symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of hypothermia
Slow and weak
Weak, irregular or absent
Slow and shallow
Slow or absent
Shivering, slurred speech
Shivering violently, clumsy, stumbling, pupils dilated, skin bluish
Shivering has stopped
Conscious but withdrawn or disinterested
confused, sleepy, irrational
DON’T rub the person’s body to improve the circulation. This will only cause cold blood to flow back to the body core and cool the body further.
When the temperature gets to below zero, there's always a possibility of finding someone to be in a frozen state.
How to recognize when an individual is in a frozen state?
- The person is found in a cold place and is not responding.
- The jaws and neck are rigid when you try to open the airway.
- The skin and deeper tissues are cold and cannot be depressed.
- The whole body moves as a solid unit.
What to do?
Do not attempt to conduct first aid for the ABC's (Airway, Breathing & Circulation), if you found a person who is completely frozen. The best thing to do is to transport the person immediately for medical help. However, this should only be done, if it is safe for the rescuer to do so. Otherwise, get yourself to safety and call 911 without delay.
First Aid for Hypothermia
- Cover the exposed skin immediately with suitable clothing or covers and make sure that the head is well insulated.
- Keep the wind and drafts out by adjusting the individual’s clothing. As much as possible, wrap the person in something windproof – reflective, blankets and plastic garbage bags are effective.
- Protect the individual from the wind and if possible take the person indoor immediately or to a covered place like bus shelter.
- Remove tight clothing and put the person in a comfortable position.
- Keep the individual dry. Wet clothing can cause severe heat loss. If there’s no way to change the wet clothing, put a blanket or dry clothes over the wet clothes. Press as much water out of the wet clothes as possible and bundle the person with something windproof.
- Insulate the person from cold objects by sitting the individual on a rolled up jacket or lie on a blanket.
- Constantly check the ABC (Airways, Breathing & Circulation) of the person and call for medical help (911) ASAP.
A person suffering from hypothermia should be handled gently. Keep him/her in a horizontal position, if possible. Cold affects the electrical impulses that make the heart beat. As a result, hypothermic person’s heartbeat becomes very delicate. The heart can stop with rough handling. If you are trained and know how to check pulse, continue checking for 30-45 seconds. Remember that the heart may be beating slowly or very faintly and it may take longer to find the pulse.
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You can always do something to help!
Today, I went to the Dollar Store to purchase 20 pairs of winter gloves and socks of all sizes. I don’t see any homeless in the small town where I live but there is a drop off for clothing, blankets, etc.. As I always do every year, I’m dropping off some useful stuff there and will leave a couple of gloves and pair of socks in my car, in case I spot a homeless while I drive to work. You can do the same too!
And, when you suspect or detect that a person is suffering from hypothermia, quickly apply the knowledge that you have learned from this hub and save a life!
Hypothermia is fatal!
Hypothermia is a potentially fatal condition. Keep warm and hug your love ones.
When shivering stops. That's the beginning of the end. ~
Author is NOT a medical practitioner. However, she is an Emergency Specialist at 37 Thousand feet, a certified First Aider and holds a degree in Medical Science & Technology. This information is only intended for educational and First Aid purposes. Call 911, if you suspect or detect Hypothermic condition.
Copyright@CrisSp~TM/01-2015. "Fearless but not heartless!" ~
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© 2015 CrisSp