As the cold weather sets in, we look at some practical ways to counteract the effects of the dipping mercury levels
The word ‘hypothermia’ usually conjures thoughts of Siberia or Alaska — but the condition isn’t just a threat in places known for very cold temperatures. Recently, Aashiqui actor Rahul Roy who was shooting for his film LAC-Live The Battle In Kargil suffered a brain stroke due extreme weather conditions.
“The commonest cause of hypothermia is prolonged exposure to very low temperatures. Besides environmental exposure to extreme cold, there are several medical causes which can result in hypothermia,” says Dr. B. Hari Kishan, Senior General Physician, Yashoda Hospitals. “Endocrinological conditions like severe hypothyroidism (myxedema), severe adrenal insufficiency, prolonged hypoglycaemia; burns, severe infection (sepsis) etc can result in hypothermia too. Brain stroke can also result in hypothermia,” he says, but clarifies that hypothermia does not cause brain stroke, though severe hypothermia can cause irregular heart rhythms which can mimic a brain stroke at times.
As for signs and symptoms, Dr. Hari Kishan says “Hypothermia results in drowsiness and severe hypothermia can make a person comatose.”
Dr. Deepika Sirineni, Senior Consultant Neuro Physician, Apollo Hospitals, explains that Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia occurs when body temperature falls below 95 F (35 C).“When our body temperature drops, vital organs like the heart and brain can’t work normally. If not treated on time, hypothermia can lead to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and eventually to death,” she says.
People at increased risk for hypothermia include:
The elderly, infants, and children without adequate heating, clothing, or food
People with mental illness
People who are outdoors for extended periods
People in cold weather whose judgment is impaired by alcohol or drugs like antidepressants, antipsychotics, narcotic pain medications and sedatives.
Hypothermia is often caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in cold water
“The most common causes of hypothermia are exposure to cold-weather conditions or cold water. But prolonged exposure to any environment colder than your body can lead to hypothermia if you aren’t dressed appropriately or can’t control the conditions,” says Dr. Deepika.
Some examples of such situations are:
Wearing clothes that aren’t warm enough for weather conditions
Staying out in the cold too long
Being unable to get out of wet clothes or move to a warm, dry location
Falling into the water, as in a boating accident
Living in a house that’s too cold, either from poor heating or too much air conditioning
The most common symptoms of hypothermia include:
Loss of consciousness
Prevention of hypothermia
Before you or your children step out into cold air, remember the advice encapsulated in the simple acronym COLD — cover, overexertion, layers, dry,” says Dr. Deepika.
‘Cover’ should remind you to wear a hat or other protective covering to prevent body heat from escaping from your head, face and neck and to cover your hands with mittens instead of gloves.
‘Overexertion’ is a warning to avoid activities that cause you to sweat a lot. “The combination of wet clothing and cold weather can cause you to lose body heat more quickly,” warns Dr. Deepika.
‘Layers’ is a reference to clothing. “Wear loose-fitting, layered, lightweight clothing. Outer clothing made of tightly woven, water-repellent material is best for wind protection. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers hold body heat better than cotton does. Stay as dry as possible. Get out of wet clothing as soon as possible. Be especially careful to keep your hands and feet dry, as it’s easy for snow to get into mittens and boots,” she cautions.
Keeping children safe from the cold
To help prevent hypothermia among children who have
to go outside in the winter, dress infants and young children in one more layer of clothes than an adult would wear in the same conditions.
“Bring children indoors if they start shivering — that’s the first sign of hypothermia. Also, have children come inside frequently to warm themselves when they’re playing outside. And don’t let babies sleep in a cold room,” recommends Dr. Deepika.
An accident on water during winter could lead to hyperthermia. So...
Wear a life jacket if you plan to ride in a watercraft.
If you do fall into the water, try to climb onto a capsized boat or grab a floating object.
Don’t attempt to swim unless you’re close to safety. Unless a boat, another person or a life jacket is close by, stay put. Swimming will use up energy and may shorten survival time.
While you’re in the water, don’t remove clothing because it helps to insulate you from the cold. Buckle, button and zip up your clothes. Cover your head if possible. Remove clothing only after you’re safely out of the water and can take measures to get dry and warm.
Dr. Deepika’s advice is to “Position your body to minimise heat loss while you wait for assistance – the heat escape lessening posture (HELP) reduces heat loss. Hold your knees close to your chest to protect the trunk of your body. Turn your face down in this position, bring your legs tightly together, your arms to your sides and your head back.”