First Aid for Hypothermia

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When a person is exposed to the cold in dry or wet conditions, hypothermia can occur. Specifically, hypothermia is when a person’s body fails to compensate for dramatic heat loss and his or her core temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. When this happens, if the victim is not immediately removed from the elements, hypothermia can be deadly.

As such, it’s important to know what steps to take in the event that you suspect a co-worker is experiencing the symptoms of hypothermia—shivering, dizziness, hunger, fast breathing and fatigue.

For hypothermia that occurs in dry conditions:

  • Call for emergency assistance as soon as possible.
  • Move the person to a warm, dry area and do not leave him or her alone.
  • Wrap the person in blankets.
  • Have the person drink warm, sweet drinks (sugar water or a sports drink) if he or she is alert. Do not administer drinks with caffeine or alcohol.
  • Have the person move his or her arms and legs to create muscle heat. If they are unable to do this, place warm bottles or hot packs in the armpits, groin, neck and head areas.

For hypothermia that occurs in wet conditions:

  • Call for emergency assistance immediately. Body heat is lost up to 25 times faster in wet conditions.
  • Get the person out of the water as soon as possible or have him or her climb on a floating item. The victim should not attempt to swim unless another person or object can be reached easily. Swimming or other physical activity uses up necessary body heat and reduces overall survival time by approximately 50 percent.
  • Do not remove any clothing. Instead, button, buckle and zip any collars, cuffs, shoes or hoods. This is because the layer of trapped water closest to the body provides insulation that slows the loss of heat.