When exposed to very cold temperatures, the human body can lose heat faster than it is produced, resulting in a dangerously low core body temperature known as hypothermia.
While more likely to occur in cold weather, hypothermia can develop even when temperatures are cool if a person becomes chilled. Understanding the basics of this potentially fatal condition is critical for prevention and prompt treatment.
Normally, the human body maintains a temperature around 98.6° Fahrenheit (37° Celsius).
Hypothermia sets in when core temperature falls below 95° F. Severe hypothermia occurs at 82° F or lower, when the heart, brain, and other organs begin to fail and the victim may be unaware anything is wrong.
The body initially tries to generate heat by shivering and reducing blood flow to the skin and extremities. However, prolonged chilling overwhelm these efforts.
Because the symptoms often come on gradually and mental confusion is common, those developing hypothermia may neglect or be unable to take actions to rewarm. Elderly people, babies, the malnourished or ill, and those under the influence of drugs or alcohol are at higher risk as their ability to regulate body temperature is compromised.
Additionally, wet conditions dramatically accelerate heat loss. Each year in the United States, between 700 and 1,500 deaths occur due to hypothermia from exposure.
While the most effective strategy is prevention through appropriate preparations when venturing out into the cold, awareness of hypothermia is invaluable.
Recognizing early signs and immediately intervening to warm the victim and seek emergency medical care can avert tragedy. Proper layering, shelter, hydration, nutrition, and caution around water help safeguard body temperature should plans go unexpectedly awry.
Above all, vigilance against chilled conditions preserves health and saves lives. Being alert and prepared remains key to enjoying cold weather activities without the risk of a critically low core temperature.
The basics of hypothermia's causes, risks, and serious nature equip us to avoid and watch for it.
Such knowledge lays the foundation for further investigation into the details of signs, symptoms, treatment guidelines, and prevention best practices. Mastering these could surely prevent unnecessary loss of life.