First Aid Solutions


Recognition and Management of the hypothermic casualty

1st February 2009

Hypothermia develops when body temperature falls below 35°C (95°F). Moderate hypothermia can usually be completely reversed.

Severe hypothermia - when the core body temperature falls below 30°C (86°F) - is often, but not always, fatal. However, no matter how low the body temperature is, always persist with life-saving procedures until a doctor arrives to assess the casualty. The treatment of hypothermic cardiac arrest may last hours until the patient’s core body temperature returns within the normal range.

How do you recognise hypothermia?

  • Shivering and paleness, and cold, dry skin.
  • Disorientation, apathy or irrational behaviour; occasionally belligerence.
  • Impaired consciousness, or lethargy.
  • Slow and shallow breathing.
  • Slow and weakening pulse.
  • In extreme cases the heart may stop.

Treating a casualty with hypothermia

Seek medical help.

For someone who has been brought in from outside, immediately replace wet clothing with warm, dry garments.

The casualty can be re-warmed by bathing if they are fit, young and able to climb into a bath unaided. The water should be warm but not too hot – about 40°C (104°F).

Put the person in a bed and ensure they are well covered.

Give them warm drinks or high energy foods such as chocolate to help re-warm them.

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