Hypothermia, a condition that occurs when the body temperature falls below the normal range, is caused by a low surrounding temperature and can lead to death. Freezing temperatures cause frostbite, whereby ice forms in the body tissue and destroys it. The risk of frostbite is increased by windy conditions.
Causes of hypothermia
Hypothermia (low temperature) occurs when the body temperature falls below the normal range, and can lead to death. The average temperature of a healthy adult is 36-38°C (96.8-100.4°F). Hypothermia occurs when the body's core temperature falls below 35°C (95°F). Survival is unlikely, but not unheard of, below 26°C (79°F).
There are a number of factors that heighten the risk of becoming hypothermic. These include:
The elderly are at greater risk from hypothermia: low mobility combined with poor circulation, a reduced sensitivity to the cold and a greater potential for slips and falls means that an elderly person may develop hypothermia in temperatures that a healthy younger adult could tolerate.
The very young are also at an increased risk as their mechanisms for controlling their own body temperature are poorly developed. They may look healthy but their skin will feel cold and their behaviour may be abnormally, quiet or listless.
Signs and symptoms of hypothermia
As the condition gets worse:
If the person is unconscious
Open the airway and check for breathing. Be prepared to resuscitate if necessary. Hypothermia slows the body's functions down before stopping the heart, and it is therefore not uncommon to hear of people with hypothermia being successfully resuscitated some time after the heart has stopped.
If the person is conscious
Frostbite occurs in freezing conditions and is the freezing of body tissue at the extremities, most commonly the fingers, toes and earlobes. If it is not treated early enough it can lead to gangrene and to amputation. Frostbitten skin is highly susceptible to infection.
Signs and symptoms of frostbite
As the condition gets worse
When thawed, the injured part is extremely painful and there may be blistering of the skin.
First Aid Treatment
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