Hypothermia – what to do and what not to do.

Posted by Kris on Dec-7-2022

Hypothermia is a serious condition that can happen anywhere – not necessary in a cold outdoor environment. Hypothermia may be triggered even in warm climates by extensive submersion in water.
Hypothermia is a serious condition that may lead to death. It progresses through number of stages, and it is critical to know what to do and what not to do at each stage. Let the following story shared by a first aid instructor serve as an example. A commercial ship has picked around 20 victims of a shipping accident that spend long hours in the ocean water. To retrieve the victims from the water the rescuers have lowered rescue net down the board of the ship to help the victims climb out of the water. After getting all of them out of the water the rescuing crew walked the victims to the mess of the ship to serve them warm soup to help warm their body cores. After victims consumed the soup, they were walked to cabins where they were laid to the beds for rest. The rescuing crew was shocked by the discovery next morning that almost all victims have died during the night. They thought they had done all they could to help the victims – they fed them warm meal and put them to bed to warm up. The killing factor in this case was walking the victims. In the advanced stage of hypothermia that the victims were, the body has already shut down the blood circulation in the limbs to preserve the body core temperature. While feeding the victims warm soup was a good idea as that helped to rise the core temperature, walking them to the mess and the cabins was not. Walking has triggered blood circulation in victim’s legs that caused pushing large volume of cold blood from the legs into the circulation which overnight has lowered the core temperature below the point where normal functioning of body and brain was affected.
The above example serves as a warning that it is very important to observe the symptoms of hypothermia to understand what actions can be taken and when to help a victim.

Hypothermia has the following stages:

COLD: feeling of cold at the body core, lips may become purple in color, shivering may start
Do: Put on additional clothing to prevent further heat loss, remove from water or wet environment and put on dry clothing. Provide warm drink. Exercise to warm up.
Do not: Plan to stop exposure to cold as soon as possible.

SHIVER: uncontrolled intense shivering of the whole body caused by an attempt of the body to rise temperature by triggering muscle action. Ability to perform complex task impacted. Some cold caused pain may occur. Strange behavior may occur. Speech becomes slow and slurred. Movement becomes less coordinated.
Do: Immediately put on additional clothing to prevent further heat loss. Stay close to a source of heat. Provide hot sweet drinks.
Do not: Do not exposure body to cold anymore. Do not consume alcohol.

STUMBLE: weakness and loss of movement coordination to the point of having trouble walking. Shivering slows. Mental confusion and irrational behavior may occur. Gradual loss of consciousness may occur. Speech becomes slow and slurred. Cold, waxy skin.
Do: Move to warm place - need to stay warm for several hours. Provide warm sweet drinks. Arrange doctor visit.
Do not: Do not exposure body to cold anymore. Do not consume alcohol. Do not rub the skin to warm up.

BUMBLE: partial loss of consciousness and problems communicating. Shivering has stopped. Weakness, lack of coordination, exhaustion. Irrational behavior very common. Pulse and breathing slows down.
Do: If you are helping somebody exhale warm air near victim mouth to warm up the air intake. Need to stay awake. Make sure the body temperature does not drop anymore. Place in the semi-prone position. Keep monitoring the victim. Get medical advice as soon as possible. Carry on a stretcher for transportation.
Do not: Do not move the victim, if possible, to avoid restarting circulation in the limbs that will bring cold blood to the core. Do not rub the skin to warm up.

SLEEP: falling asleep
Do: Keep the body temperature. Provide CPR if there is no pulse or breathing for more than a minute. Transport to medical facility. Carry on a stretcher for transportation.
Do not: Avoid rough handling as that may cause cardiac arrest. Do not give up trying to revive the victim. Do not try to rewarm.

Transporting a victim of hypothermia:
Early stages: As much warmth as possible should be provided during the transportation.
Advanced stages: Below room temperatures should be provided with as smooth ride as possible.

Hypothermia is a common condition that may turn in a potential life-threatening situation. It is critical to start preventive measures as soon as the condition is identified as transition from early stages to more advanced may happen quickly as it is different for different individuals and environmental conditions.