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Hypothermia: Symptoms, Prevention, Treatment

Published: 2013-11-03 - Updated: 2021-06-07
Author: Thomas C. Weiss | Contact: Disabled World (Disabled-World.com)

Synopsis: Information regarding Hypothermia, a dangerous condition marked by an unusually low internal body temperature. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) has estimated that more than 2.5 million seniors in America are particularly vulnerable to hypothermia. Hypothermia is a dangerous and complicated medical issue and the person needs professional medical attention.

Main Digest

Hypothermia, similar to high blood pressure, may be referred to as a, "silent killer," in the sense that a number of the people affected by it are unaware of the threat it presents. Where hypothermia is concerned, seniors may not be aware they are becoming cold as quickly as those who are younger and their bodies might not adjust to changes in temperature.


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Hypothermia: A condition marked by an unusually low internal body temperature. The condition develops when a person's body heat is lost to a cool or cold environment quicker than it can be replaced. Temperatures do not have to be below freezing for hypothermia to happen, contrary to what some may believe, particularly in vulnerable people. A number of older adults may develop a low body temperature after exposure to conditions of mild cold, something that might only produce discomfort in people who are younger.

Frostnip: A mild form of frostbite which irritates the skin, causing it to become mildly pale or red and feel cold, followed by numbness and a tingling feeling. The skin is not permanently damaged from frostnip. The affected part may be slowly warmed by breathing onto the injured site, such as breathing into cupped hands. A hand with frostnip can also be warmed under the armpit. Numbness gives way to a warm flush feeling that can be painful as rewarming progresses.

Frostbite: Much more serious and may occur when skin is exposed to a temperature lower than 14 degree F (-10 degree C). Skin first becomes very cold and red, then numb, hard, pale and swollen when underlying tissues are affected. Frostbite requires immediate medical attention because of possible extensive injury, which can be complicated by infection and nerve damage.

Chart showing people at risk of hypothermia
Chart showing people at risk of hypothermia

People at Risk of Hypothermia

While older adults are more vulnerable to hypothermia than younger people in many instances, infants under the age of one year are also particularly susceptible. Among other people, those most likely to develop hypothermia include those who are:

More people who are susceptible to hypothermia include those who live alone or in isolated areas, particularly if they do not have access to a phone to contact assistance in case of illness or an accident, people who do not shiver or react to cold, and those who take certain medications that prevent their bodies from regulating temperatures appropriately. Medications that can prevent a person's body from regulating temperatures appropriately include:

Medications deserve to be mentioned because they are believed to be a major predisposing factor to hypothermia in seniors who are a growing population in many nations around the world today and consume a large percentage of the medications prescribed. It is important to check with a pharmacist or doctor for more information concerning other medications that increase your susceptibility to hypothermia.

Hypothermia may cause illness or even death. While there is no accurate data concerning the numbers of seniors who perish from this condition, it is estimated that around 10% of all people over the age of 65 experience some form of temperature regulating deficiency and between 3-4% of all people over the age of 65 in the hospital are hypothermic. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) has estimated that more than 2.5 million seniors in America are particularly vulnerable to hypothermia. Harvard Medical School estimates that 25,000 seniors may die from hypothermia every year in America.

Chart showing medications that work to prevent proper body temperature
Chart showing medications that work to prevent proper body temperature

Symptoms of Hypothermia

The fact is - some people die of hypothermia simply because they or the people around them do not recognize the symptoms. It is important to be aware of the symptoms of hypothermia if you live in an area that is cold. The symptoms of hypothermia are presented below.

Treating Hypothermia

If you think someone might be affected by hypothermia, call for an ambulance immediately. Hypothermia is a dangerous and complicated medical issue and the person needs professional medical attention. Before help arrives there are some suggestions you may follow to help.

Be very careful as you handle the person, if you are not careful you may cause the person's sudden death because their heart is very weak when their body is cold. Insulate the person with coverings you have available such as blankets, pillows, towels, scarves, or even newspapers. Do not try to re-warm the person at home; hot baths, hot water bottles and electric blankets may be dangerous.

It is important that you do not give the person anything to drink or eat. If the person is unconscious, do not raise their feet. Raising the person's feet will cause blood from their legs to flow into their body core and further depress the temperature of their body.

Preventing Hypothermia

Avoiding harm due to hypothermia is important now that cold weather is here in many parts of America. If you live alone, arrange for a daily check-in call with a family member, friend, neighbor or someone else you know. Insulate your home appropriately; caulking is low-cost and effective. Wear warm clothes; instead of tight clothing, wear several loose and warm layers. Wear a hat and scarf to avoid heat loss through your head and neck.

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Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida.

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Cite Page: Journal: Disabled World. Language: English (U.S.). Author: Thomas C. Weiss. Electronic Publication Date: 2013-11-03 - Revised: 2021-06-07. Title: Hypothermia: Symptoms, Prevention, Treatment, Source: <a href=https://www.disabled-world.com/medical/first-aid/cold-stress.php>Hypothermia: Symptoms, Prevention, Treatment</a>. Retrieved 2021-08-02, from https://www.disabled-world.com/medical/first-aid/cold-stress.php - Reference: DW#250-9932.