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First Aid for Hypothermia

Last updated Dec. 7, 2017

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Hypothermia is a condition in which the body temperature drops below 95 deg. F (35 deg. C). It occurs due to exposure to cold environments.

What is Hypothermia?

  • Hypothermia is a condition in which the body temperature drops below 95 deg. F (35 deg. C). It occurs due to exposure to cold environments (air, water, or cold winds)
  • This can lead to loss of heat from the body, which is potentially dangerous. Depending on the severity of the condition, Hypothermia may be mild, moderate, or severe

What are the Causes of Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is caused by:

  • Cold temperatures and inappropriate clothing; temperatures may get colder with severe wind chill conditions too
  • Exposure to cold environment for a long period of time
  • Leaving wet clothes on, for prolonged duration of time in cold weather conditions
  • Inadequate heating or excessive air conditioning, may affect the infants and elderly
  • Being in cold water for a long time

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Hypothermia?

The signs and symptoms of Hypothermia are:

  • Shivering
  • Confusion or mood changes, irritability
  • Slurred speech
  • Slow and shallow breathing
  • Cold, bright red and pale skin
  • Lack of coordination, loss of balance
  • Generalized weakness
  • Hypothermia can lead to signs and symptoms of frostbite

How is First Aid administered for Hypothermia?

Call 911, or your local emergency number!

While awaiting help from an emergency medical professional, the following First Aid may be administered for Hypothermia:

  • If the individual is not breathing, or not showing any signs of movement, immediately begin CPR
  • Remove wet clothing and move the individual away from the cold environment to a warmer environment
  • Cover the individual’s head and body with warm clothing or blanket
  • If available, apply warm compresses to neck, chest wall, and groin area
  • DO NOT apply direct heat to keep the individual warm
  • DO NOT offer the individual any alcoholic beverages
  • As the victim’s skin might be frostbitten, DO NOT rub or massage the individual
  • If the individual is able to drink - provide him with warm, non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic fluids

Who should administer First Aid for Hypothermia?

Any individual, in close vicinity of the injured person, can provide immediate comfort and First Aid; but, one must immediately call 911 (or your local emergency number) in all cases.

What is the Prognosis of Hypothermia?

The prognosis is dependent on the extent and duration of Hypothermia, and how promptly First Aid was administered:

  • If Hypothermia is of a short duration; then, with prompt treatment, the prognosis is excellent
  • With prolonged duration of Hypothermia, severe and permanent bodily damage, such as frostbite, can occur

How can Hypothermia be Prevented?

A few helpful tips to prevent Hypothermia:

  • Avoid being in cold water for extended periods; remove wet clothes in cold weather conditions
  • Avoid exposure to low temperatures for extended periods of time, without proper winter gear/clothing
  • Always wear appropriate winter clothing, by not only taking the current forecasted temperatures into account, but also by considering the wind chill factor. This factor often makes the wintery conditions, much worse
  • Avoid excessive alcohol intake, before exposure to cold weather conditions

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Call 911 (or your local emergency number)
  • Dry the individual if wet, and provide warm clothing or blanket
  • Move to a warmer environment immediately

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Jan. 10, 2014
Last updated: Dec. 7, 2017