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Coping with Hypothermia in Northern California


Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can make it, and your core temperature drops below 95 F°. As body temperature falls, your internal organs stop working normally, making hypothermia a medical emergency.

Dignity Health North State provides emergency services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including help for hypothermia, in Northern California. Call 911 or select an estimated arrival time to your nearest Dignity Health North State ER using InQuicker.

 

Know the Symptoms of Hypothermia

Hypothermia happens slowly — sometimes, people do not even realize its effects. Be on the lookout for:

  • Shivering
  • Clumsiness
  • Drowsiness 
  • Exhaustion 
  • Confusion 
  • Slurred speech 
  • Memory loss 

With severe hypothermia, you will stop shivering and may actually begin to feel too warm. In some extreme cases, people irrationally remove their clothes. Left untreated, hypothermia will lead to loss of consciousness, and then death. 

 

What Causes Hypothermia?

There are four ways by which your body can lose heat: 

  • Conduction — your body transfers heat to other things. If you lay on the ground, the earth will absorb your body heat. Heat loss happens 25 times faster in water. Hypothermia can occur quickly even if only a part of your body is wet. 
  • Convection — moving air draws heat out of your body. An example of this is wind chill. 
  • Evaporation — loss of heat through sweat. Your body cools itself by sweating. In a cool or cold environment, sweating quickens heat loss. 
  • Radiation — heat loss to surrounding air. This happens when you are in cold conditions. If much of your skin is exposed, hypothermia can occur even in cool temperatures. 

Accidental hypothermia is usually caused by conduction or convection. 

 

Hypothermia Treatment and Prevention

Take these actions to prevent hypothermia:

  • Cover your skin. Don’t forget to cover your head and hands. 
  • Stay dry. Change wet clothes, socks and mittens as soon as possible. 
  • Choose proper clothing for outdoor conditions and wear layers. Avoid wearing cotton. Wool with an inner wicking layer is the best choice for cold, wet weather. 
  • Avoid overexertion, as it can lead to sweating and wet clothes. 

If you observe someone experiencing hypothermia, do the following:

  • Get the person to a warm shelter.
  • Remove wet clothing.
  • Cover the person with a blanket, or whatever is available. You may need to rely on skin-to-skin contact with a warm body if nothing else is accessible.
  • Examine the person for other injuries. Deliver first aid as best possible, if needed.
  • If conscious, have the person drink warm liquids that do not contain alcohol or caffeine. 
  • Find medical attention as soon as possible, or call 911

Do you know what to do in a medical emergency? Take a Dignity Health North State basic life support class at St. Elizabeth Community Hospital, and be prepared to take life-saving measures when needed.

Dignity Health North State delivers timely emergency care, including treatment for hypothermia, in Mt. Shasta, Red Bluff, and Redding, CA.