Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops below 95°F. It happens when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Babies and the elderly are especially at risk. As body temperature falls, the heart, brain, and other internal organs stop functioning normally. Hypothermia can easily turn dangerous if not treated quickly and correctly. It is a medical emergency because it can cause death very quickly.
The emergency doctors and staff at Dignity Health provide expertise and care for hypothermia in Sacramento, CA and surrounding areas. Call 911 or come to your nearest Dignity Health ER for help. All six of our ERs in the Sacramento region offer state-of-the-art facilities and are available 24/7.
Symptoms of Hypothermia
As hypothermia happens gradually, people often don’t realize it is occurring. Signs and symptoms include:
- Slurred speech
- Memory loss
With severe hypothermia, shivering stops and you may actually start feeling too warm. This can lead to the irrational behavior of removing clothing. Eventually, loss of consciousness and death will occur.
What Causes Hypothermia?
The body loses heat in four ways:
- Convection is when moving air draws heat from your body faster than stable air. This is wind chill, and it increases the risk of hypothermia.
- Conduction is when your body transfers heat to matter. Laying directly on the ground causes heat loss to the earth.
- Radiation is heat loss to the environment. This happens when the air temperature is cooler than your body. The greater the difference and the more exposed the skin, the faster the body cools. This means hypothermia can occur in cold or even just cool temperatures.
- Evaporation is heat loss through sweating. Your body normally cools itself by evaporation of sweat. Sweating in a cold or cool environment speeds up heat loss. It can also dehydrate you, which also promotes hypothermia.
Hypothermia Treatment & Prevention with Dignity Health
Treatment and prevention of hypothermia is important. Here are some rules for preventing hypothermia:
- Choose the right clothing and wear layers. Wool with an inner wicking layer is the safest choice. Cotton is not a great insulator and can quickly lead to hypothermia when it gets wet.
- Avoid overexertion, which can lead to sweating and wet clothing.
- Stay dry and change wet clothing, socks, and mittens as soon as possible. Hypothermia can occur quickly when even one part of your body is wet.
- Cover your skin. Don't forget to cover your head and your hands.
If there are signs of hypothermia:
Dignity Health provides emergency services for hypothermia symptoms in the Sacramento region.
- Seek medical care as soon as possible.
- Get the person inside or to a warm shelter.
- Remove wet clothing.
- Cover the person with a blanket or whatever is available. Even skin-to-skin contact with a warm body works.
- Examine the person for other injuries and deliver appropriate first aid as best possible.
- If the person is awake and alert (conscious), give them warm liquids that do not contain alcohol or caffeine.