Hypothermia Treatment

Normal body temperature is 98.6°F (37°C). Hypothermia occurs when body temperature falls below 95°F (35°C). This is due to prolonged exposure to cold. Hypothermia can occur rapidly if a person is exposed to wind and he or she has wet skin. It causes cold skin, shivering, and chills. Other symptoms include drowsiness, confusion, and slurred speech. Movements may be slow and uncoordinated. As hypothermia worsens, muscles stiffen. Heartbeat and breathing rate slow down. The person may lose consciousness. Untreated, hypothermia can be fatal.

The goal of treatment is to prevent further heat loss and rewarm your body. If any of your clothing is wet, it is removed. Your head is covered and you are wrapped in blankets, or a commercial forced-air body warming blanket. You are given heated fluids through an IV line or other method. This helps raise your body temperature quickly. In addition, a mask or nasal tube may be used to supply warmed oxygen to your body. If you’re awake during treatment, you may be given warm liquids to drink. Severe cases of hypothermia require a hospital stay for treatment.

Home care

Once you have returned home:

  • Check your temperature for the next few days to make sure it does not fall below normal.

  • Continue to drink warm liquids. But stay way from drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol. These substances can worsen the effects of the cold. Also, alcohol can affect your ability to tell if you are getting too cold.

  • Wear extra layers of loose-fitting clothing as needed. Use extra blankets or a sleeping bag to keep yourself warm. Make sure your home is heated appropriately.

  • Apply a warm compress (heating pad or hot water bottle wrapped in a towel) to body areas for added heat. Use the compress for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.

  • Stay indoors while you recover. If you have to go outdoors, keep your head and neck covered with a hat and scarf. Wear a coat or jacket that protects against the wind and rain. Also, protect your hands with gloves or mittens and your feet with socks and boots.

  • Don't do strenuous activities or exercise until you are fully recovered.

  • Follow the tips given by your healthcare provider to prevent hypothermia in the future.

  • Contact your provider with any questions or concerns.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider or our staff.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider if you have:

  • Body temperature below 95°F (35°C)

  • Skin that is cold, numb, or tingly

  • Skin that is blue, white, grey, or waxy

  • Symptoms such as confusion, memory loss, slurred speech, and slow and uncoordinated body movements again

  • Changes in your heartbeat

  • Chest pain or trouble breathing

  • Loss of consciousness

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