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How to save someone suffering from hypothermia

Hypothermia develops when the body temperature falls by just two degrees. We often think of hypothermia as something that only affects adventurous types but it can affect anyone and even develop indoors. Falling into cold water can trigger it, even on a hot day, as can drinking lots of alcohol. The elderly are especially vulnerable, as are young babies.

But, as Dr Saleyha Ahsan explains, it can be easy to treat.

The signs of hypothermia are:

  • Shivering and pale, cold, dry skin
  • Disorientation, apathy or irrational behaviour; occasionally belligerence
  • Impaired consciousness or lethargy
  • Slow and shallow breathing
  • Slow and weakening pulse

If you’re with or come across someone with these symptoms then they could be hypothermic.

Follow these steps:

1. Make sure they’re dry and sheltered from the wind.

Take off any wet clothing (remember that even if the weather is dry their clothes may be damp from sweat) and get them into something warm and dry as quickly as possible. If their clothes are already dry, just add more layers.

2. Prevent further heat loss. If you have blankets available, wrap them around the patient. If not, add extra layers of clothing.

You should be warming the patient up gently and so avoid hot baths as they could heat the person up too quickly

3. If the casualty can swallow normally give them a warm drink and a high energy snack, such as chocolate.

Make sure the drink is warm, not hot. Hot drinks can cause blood vessels to open up too quickly which can lead to a dangerous drop in blood pressure. Don’t give them alcohol as this could cause harm.

4. Seek medical advice as soon as possible.

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