As a bone-chilling cold wave sweeps across the United States, turning New York City colder than Antarctica, the risk of hypothermia becomes a pressing concern. Deaths from exposure to extreme cold have been reported from various corners of the country, emphasizing the need for awareness about hypothermia warning signs and preventive measures.
Hypothermia is a medical condition triggered by prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures. Notably, it can also occur at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or immersion in water. With temperatures plummeting across the nation, it’s crucial to recognize the symptoms and take prompt action.
The Onset of Symptoms:
Symptoms typically manifest when a person’s body temperature drops to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. A healthy person’s baseline temperature is around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Severe hypothermia sets in when body temperatures plummet to 82 degrees or lower. The speed at which one gets cold depends on the ambient temperature, and the onset can happen relatively quickly, according to Dr. Emily MacNeill, an emergency medicine physician at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital.
Warning Signs of Hypothermia:
As the body fights to maintain warmth, the brain’s function slows down, impeding clear thinking and movement. Recognizing these warning signs becomes critical:
- Fumbling hands
- Memory loss
- Slurred speech
In severe cases, additional red flags include bluish skin, dilated pupils, slowed pulse and breathing, low blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. Children may exhibit bright, red skin and low energy when experiencing hypothermia.
Responding to Hypothermia:
If an individual records a temperature below 95 degrees, seeking immediate medical attention is paramount. However, if professional help is inaccessible, taking the following steps can be lifesaving:
- Find Shelter Quickly: Move to a warm room or seek shelter promptly.
- Warm the Core: Focus on warming the chest, neck, head, and groin.
- Remove Wet Clothing: Ensure you are dry and remove any wet clothing.
- Stay Dry: Keep yourself dry to prevent further heat loss.
- Avoid Alcohol: While warm drinks can help raise body temperature, alcohol should be avoided as it contributes to further heat loss.
In the most severe cases, when a person’s heart may stop beating, CPR may be necessary. Dr. MacNeill emphasizes the gravity of hypothermia, stating, “You can certainly die from hypothermia because we can’t get you rewarmed. Your heart rate gets really slow or your heart stops because it’s just too cold to function.”
Preventive Measures Amidst the Cold Wave:
With extreme cold gripping the nation, taking preventive measures becomes crucial:
- Layer Up: Dress in layers to retain body heat.
- Cover Exposed Skin: Use hats, scarves, and gloves to protect exposed areas.
- Limit Outdoor Exposure: Minimize time spent outdoors, especially in harsh weather conditions.
- Stay Informed: Keep abreast of weather forecasts to plan activities accordingly.
As the winter chill persists, staying vigilant to hypothermia warning signs and implementing preventive measures is paramount. Understanding the risks and taking prompt action can be the difference between life and death in frigid conditions.