Winter Safety: Preventing Hypothermia
Hypothermia Prevention Information from the Maine CDC
Stay Warm – Prevent Hypothermia
The Problem of Hypothermia
- With fuel costs high, it is tempting to turn down the thermostat to save fuel. This may put some people at risk for cold body temperature, also known as hypothermia. Cold outdoor temperatures also mean that people who work (or play) outdoors for long periods also could be at risk.
- About 750 deaths occur due to hypothermia every year in the U.S.
- An average of 20 Mainers die every year due to hypothermia, including about 3-4 who die in their homes.
- High risk populations include people who:
- Are over 60 years of age, who account for more than half of all hypothermia deaths (they do not shiver or constrict peripheral blood vessels as well and have lower metabolic rates)
- Are infants (babies under 1 year of age)
- Have hypothyroidism
- Drink or abuse alcohol (alcohol results in vasodilation, a relaxation of blood vessels causing heat loss)
- Have a mental illness
- Are homeless, poor, and/or live alone
- Take sedative hypnotics (such as benzodiazepines, chloral hydrate, antihistamines such as diphenhydramine=Benadryl)
- Take neuroleptic medications (also known as antipsychotics, and include phenothiazines, haloperidol, loxapine, clozapine, zyprexa), which induce vasodilation and reduce shivering responses.
What You Can Do to Prevent Hypothermia
- Dress in layers.
- Wear a warm hat – 30% of heat loss is through the head.
- Wear a scarf and gloves.
- Infants should be in a room in which the temperature is 61-68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Drink plenty of fluids and warm/hot drinks.
- Eat regular balanced meals to give you energy – good nutrition is important.
- Keep active when it’s cold, but not to the point where you’re sweating.
- Keep dry and change out of wet clothes as soon as possible.
- Cut down on alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, since all three cause heat loss.
- Try to keep one room in the house warm.
- Ask your doctor if you are on any medications that affect your ability to maintain a steady body temperature (such as neuroleptic medications and sedative hypnotics).
Symptoms of hypothermia include:
- Decreased consciousness, sleepiness, confusion, and/or disorientation
- Someone who is mildly hypothermic may not take action to warm themselves
- Shivering, pale or blue skin, numbness, poor coordination, slurred speech
- In severe hypothermia, shivering decreases or goes away, and the person becomes unconscious and has very shallow breaths.