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How to Spot the Signs and Prevent Hypothermia in Children and Adults

For many families, winter is a season full of snow, warm beverages, and fun outdoor play. But freezing weather can also lead to hypothermia, a condition in which the body becomes exposed to cold temperatures, and when the body loses heat faster than producing it. When hypothermia sets in, a person’s organs cannot function normally, which can lead to organ failure or even death.

Prevent hypothermia in children and adults by practicing these safety tips:

Signs of Hypothermia

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Shivering is likely the first thing you'll notice as the temperature starts to drop because it's your body's automatic defense against cold temperature — an attempt to warm itself.” Hypothermia symptoms appear slowly and begin to reduce a person’s ability to think clearly. It’s a dangerous condition because most people don’t recognize the signs until it’s too late. The very young and the elderly are most at risk because they cannot regulate their body temperatures.

Look for these common hypothermia symptoms:

  • Body temperature drops below 95°F

  • Uncontrollable shivering

  • Confusion

  • Clumsiness

  • Drowsiness

  • Nausea

  • Slurred speech

  • Pallid, cold skin

  • A weak pulse

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Frostbite

Hypothermia in Infants and Toddlers

Hypothermia develops in infants due to inadequate home heating, and when a child isn’t clothed in warm layers. Unfortunately, young children cannot communicate when they’re in danger. Caregivers should call 9-1-1 immediately if they see any signs of hypothermia in young children:

  • Body temperature drops below 97.5 °F

  • A weak cry

  • Low energy levels

  • Lethargy

  • Cold, red skin

  • Unable to eat or drink

  • Labored breathing

  • Weight loss

Causes of Hypothermia

According to Healthline, “Cold weather is the primary cause of hypothermia. When your body experiences extremely cold temperatures, it loses heat more quickly than it can produce it.” Those most susceptible to developing hypothermia include the elderly, infants, those with mental illness or dementia, alcohol and drug users, and those with medical conditions.

Hypothermia comes on gradually due to:

  • Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures.

  • Exposure to cold water (freezing lakes, ponds, or the ocean).

  • Wearing wet clothing in cold temperatures.

  • Living in a home with inadequate heat.

  • Exposure to harsh and dangerous wind chills.

  • Young children ignore the cold and continue to play in freezing temperatures.

  • Dehydration, and not consuming enough warm liquids in cold temperatures.

  • The inadequate covering of the feet, hands, nose, and ears, which are the areas most susceptible to developing hypothermia.

  • Traumatic health conditions can leave the body unable to regulate body temperature.

Hypothermia Prevention

The best way to prevent hypothermia is to stay in a warm indoor area and wear well-insulated layers of clothing. If you plan to go outside for prolonged periods, be sure to have back up heat sources, take regular breaks, and check for early signs of hypothermia.

  • Dress in warm layers, and choose weather-proof clothing.

  • Dress infants and young children in an extra layer for protection.

  • Make sure children cover their heads, ears, hands, and feet when playing outside in cold temperatures.

  • Choose mittens over gloves.

  • Keep skin dry and avoid swimming or playing in cold bodies of water.

  • Get plenty of rest before venturing outside.

  • Stay hydrated and well-fed before going outside.

  • Always play outside in groups, and never leave any friends behind.

  • Caregivers should frequently check on children and look for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

  • Make sure children take long breaks in between playing outside in cold weather.

If you think someone is experiencing the symptoms of hypothermia, immediately call 9-1-1 or go to the closest emergency room. In the meantime, bring the affected individual indoors, remove wet clothing, and wrap in warm blankets. Never place direct heat, such as hot water, on the affected individual.

The Institute for Childhood Preparedness has decades of experience in safety and emergency preparedness, response, and recovery. Make sure your child care program is ready for winter by scheduling an emergency preparedness training and plan review today:



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