• Hypothermia

    What is Hypothermia?

    Hypothermia is a potentially life-threatening, cold-related emergency that occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing the core body temperature to fall below 95° F (35° C). Typically, the person experiences exposed to cold air temperatures, cold water or both. Hypothermia can also occur when the weather is not cold due to prolonged exposure in a wet or windy environment, wet clothes or sweating.

    Signs and symptoms include:

    • Shivering, then lack of shivering
    • Pale and cold to touch
    • Disorientation, indifference, confusion
    • Glassy stare
    • Unresponsiveness
    • Slow or no breathing
    • Slow or no heart rate
    • Stiff body with rigid muscles

    Emergency Steps


    Check the scene safety, form an initial impression, obtain consent and put on PPE, as appropriate.


    Check for signs and symptoms.

    • Disorientation, confusion or indifference*
    • Glassy stare*
    • Loss of ability to shiver as condition worsens*
    • Slowly of or no breathing*
    • Unresponsiveness*
    • Slowing of or no heart rate*
    • Body stiffening with ridged muscles*
    • Shivering
    • Pale skin
    • Cold to the touch

    *Note: Signs and symptoms with a * require immediate emergency medical treatment.


    Call 9-1-1 and get equipment if the person requires immediate emergency medical treatment.


    Give Care.

    General Care: Hypothermia

    1. Rewarm the person slowly.
      1. Rapid rewarming can lead to dangerous heart rhythms.
    2. Move the person to a warmer place.
    3. Remove wet clothes.
    4. Dry the person.
    5. Help the person put on dry clothing, including hat, gloves and socks, if available.
    6. Wrap the person in dry blankets and plastic sheeting, if available.
    7. Cover the person’s head.
    8. Position the person as appropriate near a heat source or apply heating pads or hot water bottles filled with warm water to the body (if far from medical care).
    9. Wrap heating pads or hot water bottles in thin, dry cloths to protect the person’s skin.
    10. Offer small sips of a warm, non-caffeinated liquid if alert and can swallow. Examples include broth, warm water.
    11. Continue checking them as appropriate to determine if additional care is needed.
    12. Give care for shock, if necessary.
    13. Reassure person you will help and that EMS has been called (if appropriate).
    14. Watch for changes in condition, including breathing and responsiveness, and give care as appropriate.
      1. Be prepared to give CPR or compression-only CPR based on level of training and use an AED when available if the person becomes unresponsive and is not breathing (cardiac arrest).

    Hypothermia FAQs

    How can hypothermia be prevented?

    Dressing in layers can help to protect you against exposure illness from cold temperatures. A base layer, next to your skin, helps to regulate body temperature by wicking (i.e., absorbing or drawing away) sweat. Silk, merino wool and certain synthetics are best at wicking.

    Cotton is not a good choice because it traps moisture. The middle layer acts as insulation, keeping you warm by trapping warm air close to your body. Natural fibers (wool and goose down) and synthetic fleece are excellent insulators. The outer layer protects from wind, rain or snow. For cold weather, this layer should be waterproof and “breathable.”

    To stay warm, also wear:

    • A hat
    • A scarf/knit mask covering the face & mouth
    • Sleeves that are snug at the wrist
    • Mittens (warmer than gloves)
    • Water-resistant boots

    Can I give a person with hypothermia an alcoholic drink to help warm them up?

    No. Never give alcohol to a person who has hypothermia. Although alcohol may temporarily make the person feel warmer, it actually increases loss of body heat. You should also avoid giving a person who has hypothermia beverages containing caffeine, because caffeine promotes fluid loss and can lead to dehydration.

    What else can I use if I don't have a blanket?

    You could use additional clothing, sheets or towels for warming. If needed, you can use plastic sheeting, newspaper or cardboard. You can also use heating pads and hot water bottles to warm the person. However, wrap them in thin, dry cloth to protect the skin.

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