WebMD Health News
Daniel J. DeNoon
Louise Chang, MD
Oct. 30, 2012 -- With power out and temperatures dropping in Hurricane Sandy's aftermath, keeping warm is more than a comfort issue. It's a matter of life and death.
In its early stages, hypothermia -- too-low body temperature -- is hard to recognize. That makes it especially deadly, as many people don't know it's happening and become unable to take care of themselves.
Many people think it has to be freezing outside before they can get hypothermia. But if a person is wet from rain or sweat, hypothermia can set in at temperatures well above 40 F.
Those most at risk are elderly people, who are less able to compensate for low temperatures, says James F. Peggs, MD, professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan.
"For elderly people, having the furnace go out or falling and spending hours on a cold floor can trigger hypothermia," Peggs says. "A body temperature of 96, not a whole lot lower than normal, can cause hypothermia symptoms in the elderly."
Babies, particularly those asleep in cold rooms, also are at risk. So are unattended children. People who have been drinking alcohol also risk hypothermia, as do some people suffering from mental illnesses.
Hypothermia is a serious medical condition. Call 911 if you think that you or another person has become hypothermic.
The symptoms of hypothermia are the same in children and in adults:
The symptoms of hypothermia in infants include:
Hypothermia treatment means warming the body slowly. DO NOT begin by warming the hands and feet, as this can bring on shock. Warm the person's trunk first:
After the person arrives at the hospital, medical professionals may give IV fluids and oxygen.
SOURCES:CDC.WebMD Medical Reference: "Hypothermia Treatment."James F. Peggs, MD, professor and associate chair of family medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
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