Our body is designed to maintain appropriate temperature irrespective of the temperature of external environment. Human body can generate heat when needed and similarly it can get rid of excess of heat. Blood vessels in the superficial area like skin expand during hot conditions forcing excess of heat on the skin allowing you to sweat. Sweating automatically cools down the body. If there is excess of cold outside, the blood vessels would contract thus reducing the quantity of blood flow to the skin. This in turn would conserve body heat thus increasing the body temperature making you feel warm.
The process of shivering can also warm your body since extra muscles are put into action which generates extra heat. Body temperature can be measured in the mouth, armpit, and ear and even on the rectum. Temperature is expressed in terms of Fahrenheit or Celsius depending on the location you live. Thermometer is the instrument used for measuring temperature.
Low body temperature indicates that something is very much wrong in the system requiring immediate medical attention. Low body temperature is called as “Hypothermia” in medical terms.
Normal Temperature :
Normal temperature of our body is 98.6 F or about 37 degree Celsius. But sometimes the temperature can drop down to serious level going below 95 F leading to hypothermia.
What Happens When The Temperature Becomes Too Low?
Optimal heat is required for the blood vessel and other vital organs to function normally. But when the body temperature goes below 95F the heart, kidney, and the nervous system may not be able to work properly. If this condition is not treated immediately it can cause potential failure of these organs ultimately leading to death. Low body temperature is often caused due to cold weather and it is necessary to warm the body quickly.
Human body is tuned to produce various signs and symptoms to indicate that something is seriously wrong. The body would start shivering which is the first sign of low temperature. Body’s defense mechanism would spring into action forcing the muscle to contract making you to shiver for few seconds. This is done to generate heat so that body can warm up itself. Other symptoms of low body temperature include nausea, dizziness, rapid breathing, hunger and trouble in speaking.
The person may get slightly confused indicating poor brain function and lack of coordination. The heart may beat faster than before causing palpitation. These are the symptoms produced due to mild form of hypothermia. As the body temperature continues to drop it can cause more serious signs like slurred speech, confusion, low concentration, drowsiness, weak pulse rate and shallow breathing. The person may start losing concern unaware of his condition and may pass out. Progressively he/she may lose consciousness.
Infants who cannot express themselves may show symptoms like very low energy level, bright red colored skin and a weak cry. You should seek immediate medical attention if you see such symptoms in any of your family members. People who are exposed to cold water for prolonged time can also develop such signs. One should carefully remove their wet clothes and wrap them up in thick blankets before calling emergency help.
Many factors can cause low body temperature. Often it can be caused due to cold climatic conditions or over-exposure to cold water. The condition of hypothermia develops when the body begins to lose heat quicker than it generates it. Staying outdoors for long duration in cold weather can lead to low body temperature. This is quite common in Western countries like America. Not wearing proper clothing that tolerates cold or wearing inappropriate clothing can also reduce the body temperature.
Any person who is not able to get out of wet clothing can develop hypothermia. Accidents during boating can lead to fall in cold water and if no rescue is available it can cause even death. Older people and infants may have weak immunity and for them inadequate heating at home can cause low body temperature. Similarly excess of air conditioning can also cause this problem.
Heat Can Be Lost From The Body In 3 Ways :
- Direct Contact :
People who are exposed to cold water or cold surface for long can easily develop hypothermia. Heat produced from the body is transferred to the water at faster pace than to the atmosphere, since water is a good conductor of heat.
- Heat Radiation :
Loss of heat can occur due to heat radiation from unprotected exteriors of the body.
- Chill Winds :
Chill winds are powerful enough to remove heat generated from the body.
Who Are At Risk?
Old aged people and infants are at increased risk for developing low body temperature easily. For older generation even medical conditions can affect the normal body temperature. People with prolonged mental illness may not know or understand the weather conditions and they may not have any idea about its consequence.
Alcohol Abuse :
People who are in the habit of drinking for long term would suffer from rapid heat loss from their body without their knowledge. It is true that one may feel warm after drinking since the blood vessels would expand and dilate once it mixes with alcohol. They may not feel the need to get back to warm place due to intoxicated condition. People who are in drug abuse may also have similar problems.
Medical Conditions :
Parkinson’s disease, anorexia nervosa, hypothyroidism, severe form of arthritis and stroke can lower your body temperature. Other medical conditions like peripheral neuropathy can severely affect the sensation in the extremes increasing the risk of hypothermia.
Antipsychotic drugs and antidepressant drugs and sedatives can alter the body temperature and your sensation. In severe cases low body temperature can lead to freezing of body tissues and gangrene (death of tissue) resulting in blocked blood flow.
Mere measuring of body temperature can give you clear idea of your body temperature. Based on the physical symptoms of the person the doctor may order for further testing procedure like blood test and other vital tests.
Low body temperature needs immediate medical care to prevent any further complications. Before moving the person to ambulance or nearby clinic, the following first aid can be done by any family person or friends.
- Calm Down :
Firstly make the person relaxed. Be gentle in handling him/her. Don’t apply force or make any vigorous movement to generate heat since it can worsen the condition.
- Shifting To Warm Place :
Next move the affected person to warm or dry location. If you are not able to pull him/her out of water you can provide shield for preventing further attack from cold water or wind.
- Removing Clothing :
If the clothes are drenched with water don’t hesitate to remove wet clothing. If possible cover the person with thick blankets which will give warmth.
- Give Warm Drinks :
If the person is conscious you can give him non-alcoholic warm beverages to generate heat from the body.
- Skin Contact :
You can also warm him/her up by making direct skin contact with your body which helps in producing heat and warmth.
- Don’t Give Direct Heating :
Never attempt to use hot pads or heating lamps for giving direct heat. This can cause skin scarring and sometimes trigger irregular heartbeats.
Medical Care :
Based on the severity of the symptoms, emergency doctor would start his treatments. If the person is not able to breathe properly he/she will be put on artificial breathing machine or given supplementary oxygen to regularize breathing. IV fluids would be started with warm saline water which helps in warming the blood easily. Hemodialysis would be done on emergency basis to remove cold blood from the body and injecting warm blood. Humidified oxygen can be given via nasal tube or mask to warm the airways blocked and clearing the respiratory tract. The body would then be washed with warm salt water to trigger body heat. Certain areas like abdomen and lungs can be irrigated with warm water.
Tips For Prevention :
Getting low body temperature is common for people living in cold weather conditions. There are various methods to stay warm during such seasons.
- Cover Your Head And Face :
Covering the whole body leaving eyes and nose is the first line measure for keeping the body warm. Wearing hat, protective mask and covering hands with mittens are highly effective in increasing the warmth.
- Avoid Stressful Activities :
Don’t involve in work that causes increased sweating.
- Use Water Repellant Clothing :
If you are planning to go outdoors during cold weather, wear layered clothing. This would protect your body from cold wind.
Infants and Children :
- Watch your child if they are playing outside during winter and freezing cold weather.
- Use layered clothing for infants which give additional warmth.
- Ask them to warm themselves frequently by coming inside.
- Check the heating machine in advance to avoid repair.
- Avoid drinking alcohol if you are boating during cold weather and before going to bed.