Hypothermia: recognizing the dangers of the cold and knowing how to react

We are still in winter. The holidays are coming and exposure to the cold is going to be on the agenda for those who go to the mountains or to a cold zone. A poor appreciation of the temperature can expose you or your loved ones to the risk of hypothermia which can occur without you realizing it or having measured the danger of the cold. You don’t need a polar climate to be hit with hypothermia.

Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce and your body temperature drops below 35°C. If left untreated, it can be life threatening. Hypothermia is often caused by exposure to cold or immersion in a body of cold water. It can be caused from continuous exposure to temperatures only below 10°C. You may be more at risk if you are also exhausted or dehydrated.

Signs that hypothermia is getting to you

Signs and symptoms of hypothermia usually develop slowly and can include:

  • – chills, which can however stop when the body temperature drops
  • – Awkward speech or mumbling
  • – Slow and shallow breathing
  • – A weak pulse
  • – Clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • – Drowsiness or very low energy consumption
  • – Confusion or loss of memory
  • – Loss of consciousness
  • – Bright red, cool skin (in infants)

The care to provide quickly to a person with hypothermia

If you think someone has hypothermia, call the emergency number. Then immediately take the following actions:

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– Gently take the person out of the cold. If it is not possible to get inside, protect the person from the wind, especially around the neck and head. Isolate the person from the cold ground.

– Gently remove wet clothing. Replace wet items with warm, dry coats or blankets.

– If additional warming is needed, do it gradually. For example, apply warm, dry compresses to the center of the body – neck, chest and groin. Another option is to use an electric blanket, if available. If you use hot water bottles or chemical compresses, wrap them first in a towel before applying them.

– Offer the person hot, sugary and non-alcoholic drinks.

– Start cardiopulmonary resuscitation if the person has no signs of life, such as breathing, coughing or moving.


– Do not warm the person too quickly, for example with a heat lamp or a hot bath.

– Do not attempt to warm arms and legs. Heating or massaging the limbs of a person in this state can stress the heart and lungs.

– Do not give alcohol or cigarettes to the person. Alcohol interferes with the warming process, and tobacco products interfere with the circulation needed for warming.


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