HYPOTHERMIA

Hypothermia is a core body temperature < 35° C. Symptoms progress from shivering and lethargy to confusion, coma, and death. Mild hypothermia requires a warm environment and insulating blankets (passive rewarming). Severe hypothermia requires active rewarming of the body surface (eg, with forced-air warming systems, radiant sources) and core (eg, inhalation, heated infusion and lavage, extracorporeal blood rewarming).

East Africa’s mountains lack the extremely cold temperatures found in many mountain ranges of the world, but hypothermia and frostbite can still occur.

Hypothermia Recognition

The symptoms of hypothermia are varied and depend on the body’s core temperature. A person suffering from a mild case may exhibit shivering and a lack of coordination, while a person suffering from severe hypothermia may be incoherent, exhibiting muscular rigidity and possible cardiac arrest.

The chart below shows common symptoms and corresponding treatments

Severity of Hypothermia Body Temperature (°F) Symptoms
Mild 98.6–97°97–95° Shivering begins.Cold sensation, skin numbness, goose bumps, lack of hand coordination.
Moderate 95–93°93–90° Intense shivering, general lack of muscular coordination, slow or stumbling pace, mild confusion, pale skin.Violent shivering, gross lack of muscular coordination, mental sluggishness, amnesia, difficulty speaking.
Severe 90–86°86–82°

82–78°

Shivering stops, muscular stiffness, extreme confusion or incoherence, irrational behavior, inability to stand, skin appears blue and/or puffy.Muscular rigidity, semiconscious, pulse and respiration decrease, dilation of pupils, skin ice-cold to touch.

Unconsciousness, pulmonary edema, pulse and heart-beat erratic, cardiac and respiratory failure, death.

Hypothermia Treatment

When the signs of hypothermia are detected, it is critical to begin treatment immediately—even in mild cases. The first and most important step is to eliminate the victim’s exposure to cold or wet conditions (seek shelter if outdoors). Additional treatment methods, depending on severity, include:

  • Mild hypothermia: Remove all wet clothing and replace it with dry clothing or blankets. Encourage the victim to stay active and to drink a warm (not hot), sweet liquid. Avoid offering liquids containing alcohol and/or caffeine; alcohol can increase heat loss and caffeine tends to cause dehydration.
  • Moderate hypothermia: Replace all wet clothing with dry clothing or blankets. Be sure to cover the victim’s head, as this is a major source of heat loss. If the victim is able to swallow without danger, give him/her warm, sweet liquids to drink. Place warm objects, such as hot water bottles, next to the victim’s head, neck, chest and groin to help increase core body temperature; body-to-body contact is also an effective means of warming a victim. Finally, take the victim to a medical facility as soon as possible.
  • Severe hypothermia: A person suffering from severe hypothermia can easily be mistaken for dead. Even if the victim is cold, rigid and has no detectable pulse, continue treatment. (There are numerous cases of a seemingly lifeless victim being brought back to full consciousness and good health.) It is vital that a person suffering from severe hypothermia get to a medical facility as quickly as possible, even before treatment is attempted. While waiting for professional assistance, replace the victim’s wet clothing with dry clothing or blankets. Be sure to handle the victim gently, as the heart is susceptible to cardiac arrest when it reaches temperatures below 90°F. If the victim does suffer a cardiac arrest, administer CPR until professional help arrives.

Hypothermia Prevention on Kilimanjaro mountain

You can significantly reduce the risk of hypothermia by taking the following precautions before you head out into cold, wet conditions:

  • Wear proper clothing. The ideal clothing for spending extended periods in a cold and/or wet environment includes a breathable layer next to the skin (such as cotton or polypropylene), an insulating middle layer (wool, which continues to insulate even when wet, is a good choice) and a waterproof, but breathable, outer layer (such as nylon or Gore-Tex® fabric).
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Use the buddy system to operate as a team when spending time outdoors.
  • Familiarize yourself with the signs of hypothermia; early recognition can prevent a life-or-death situation.
  • Drinking hot fluid.
  • Keep walking, don’t stay longer during summit