Hypothermia: how to spot and treat it

editorial image

With temperatures dropping this week, we look at recognising and dealing with hypothermia.

Hypothermia happens when someone’s body temperature drops below 35°C (95°F). Normal body temperature is around 37°C (98. 6°F).

Hypothermia can become life-threatening quickly, so it’s important to treat someone with hypothermia straight away.

Severe hypothermia, when the body temperature falls below 30°C (86°F), is often fatal.

Hypothermia is usually caused by being in a cold environment for a long time.

This could be from staying outdoors in cold conditions, falling into cold water, or from living in a poorly heated house. Elderly people, babies, homeless people and anyone who is thin and frail or not able to move around easily are particularly vulnerable.

The four key things to look for are:

1. Shivering, cold, pale, and dry skin;

2. Tiredness, confusion, and irrational behaviour;

3. Slow and shallow breathing;

4. Slow and weakening pulse.

If you notice someone has any of these symptoms, you need to warm them up.

If they are outside, if possible get them indoors. Cover them with layers of blankets and warm the room to about 25°C (77°F). Give them something warm to drink, like soup, and high energy food, like chocolate.

Once they have warmed up, tell them to see a doctor as soon as possible.

If they lose responsiveness at any point, open their airway, check their breathing and prepare to treat someone who’s become unresponsive.

If they are outdoors and you can’t move them indoors:

Find something for them to lie on to protect them from the cold ground, like heather or pine branches.

If their clothes are wet, change them into dry clothes, if possible. Put them in a sleeping bag and cover them with blankets, if available. Make sure their head is covered too.

Then call 999 for an ambulance. If possible, don’t leave them by themselves but stay with them until help arrives.

While you wait for help to arrive, keep checking their breathing, pulse and level of response.

For those looking for quick, easily accessible first aid information, the St John Ambulance app is available free on smartphones and the website (www.sja.org.uk) offers demo videos and lots of free advice.

For more information about first aid courses please call 08700 10 49 50.