How to prevent and treat hypothermia

Handling life-threatening chilling of the body. Hypothermia occurs when body temperature drops to 95°F or below. Be alert to such signs as shivering, pale and cold skin, clumsiness, slurred speech, confusion, irritability, lethargy. Victims, especially the elderly, may not notice symptoms. Ability to sense one’s own body temperature decreases with age.

Rewarming must begin immediately; otherwise the victim may perish. Check breathing and pulse and, if necessary, administer CPR. Don’t give up; a victim of hypothermia may survive 6 minutes or more without breathing or pulse. Then summon medical help. Move the person to a warm place. If you are far from shelter, get out of the wind; improvise a shelter with anything available. Remove the victim’s wet clothing and replace it with dry. Wrap him in blankets or put him in a sleeping bag with another person.

Indoors, if the victim is conscious, use a tub of lukewarm, not hot, water. Provide hot liquids, preferably sweetened, but no alcohol-it lowers temperature. If the victim is unconscious, use heaters and blankets; cover all but his face. Continue rewarming until help arrives or, in outlying areas, until a victim is sufficiently restored to be taken to a hospital.


If you will be exposed to the cold for a long period, take precautions. Fuel yourself well with food, especially carbhoydrates; don’t smoke or drink alcoholic beverages.

Dress warmly; the best insulation is air trapped between layers of clothing. Wear a hat, gloves, and windproof outer garments to prevent the body’s heat escaping. Wet clothing is a double disaster: it loses its ability to trap air and it cools the skin. For prolonged outdoor activity, carry rain gear and a change of clothes. Keep active; movement generates heat.

Don’t ignore the wind-chill factor. In a wind of 25 mph, 30°F is equivalent to 0°F Hypothermia doesn’t occur only in cold weather. A swim in icy water, even on a warm day, can cause it; so can cold or dampness if exposure is prolonged.