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Home Health Library Hypothermia: First aid

Hypothermia: First aid

How to administer first aid for someone with cold body temperature.

Overview

Hypothermia happens when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat and the body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). Left untreated, it can be life-threatening.

Hypothermia is often caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in cold water. Ongoing exposure to cool indoor temperatures also can cause hypothermia, especially in older adults and babies. Being exhausted or dehydrated increases the risk of hypothermia.

When to seek emergency help

If you suspect someone has hypothermia, call 911 or your local emergency number.

Symptoms

Symptoms of hypothermia usually develop slowly and may include:

  • Shivering, though this may stop as body temperature drops.
  • Slurred speech or mumbling.
  • Slow, shallow breathing.
  • Weak pulse.
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination.
  • Drowsiness or very low energy.
  • Confusion or memory loss.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • In infants, bright red, cold skin.

Treatment

To help someone with hypothermia, take these steps immediately:

  1. Gently move the person out of the cold. If going indoors isn't possible, protect the person from the wind, especially around the neck and head. Insulate the individual from the cold ground, such as by laying a blanket underneath the person.
  2. Gently remove wet clothing. Replace wet things with warm, dry coats or blankets.
  3. If further warming is needed, do so gradually and focus on the center of the body. For example, apply warm, dry compresses to the neck, chest and groin. The CDC says that another option is using an electric blanket, if available. If a hot water bottle or chemical hot pack is used, first wrap it in a towel before applying.
  4. Offer the person warm, sweet, nonalcoholic drinks.
  5. Begin CPR if the person shows no signs of life, such as breathing, coughing or movement.

What to avoid

  • Do not rewarm the person too quickly, such as with a heating lamp or hot bath.
  • Don't attempt to warm the arms and legs. Heating or massaging the limbs can stress the heart and lungs.
  • Don't give the person alcohol or cigarettes. Alcohol hinders the rewarming process, and tobacco products interfere with circulation that is needed for rewarming.
Last Updated: April 16th, 2024