What’s a low temperature

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10 Fascinating Facts About Body Temperature

Is your body temperature 98.6 degrees and falling? If so, it can reveal a lot about your health. In fact, body temperature is one of four vital signs doctors watch for, the other three being blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiration rate.

As you probably know, 98.6 degrees F is considered a normal body temperature, though healthy adults can range between 97.8 degrees F and 99 degrees F. Our bodies also constantly adapt their temperature according to environmental conditions. Body temperature rises when you exercise. You may have low body temperature at night. And if you check your body temperature with a thermometer, you will see that it’s higher in the afternoon than first thing in the morning when you rise.

Babies have a high body temperature when compared with older children or adults. This high body temperature is because babies sweat less when they are warm. It’s also why babies are more likely to have a fever than children or adults.

A fever is a temporary high body temperature, and is often related to illness. Usually fevers subside in a few days, but for an adult a body temperature over 103 degrees F signals danger and warrants medical attention. For babies and toddlers, even a slightly high body temperature may signify a serious infection or medical condition. Always call your doctor about any high body temperature or low body temperature that is abnormal.

Different over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin), may lower a fever or high body temperature, but check with your doctor before taking one of these or giving a fever-reducing medication to a child. It’s thought that fever may be best left untreated as the high body temperature may help your body fight the illness or infection.

You have a fever when your temperature is at least 1 degree over your normal body temperature, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. What’s normal for you may be a little higher or lower than the average normal temperature of 98.6 degrees F (37 degrees C). Some people have a low body temperature of 97.8 degrees F all the time, and for them this temperature is normal.

With a high body temperature and fever, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Chills and shivering
  • Dehydration
  • General weakness
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating

If these symptoms last more than a few days, see your doctor. Young children from 6 months to 5 years old might experience febrile seizures with a high body temperature. Medical attention is necessary to lower the temperature and treat the symptoms.

Along with illness causing a high body temperature, your temperature changes as you age, when you smoke, and even when you tell a lie. Read on to find out more.

Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, right? Not so. There is no baseline for humans, and even if there was, it would be closer to 97.7 °F. Temperature also varies across the day, peaking in late afternoon and bottoming out in early morning. It is slightly higher for women than for men as well. For two decades research has debunked the benchmark, set way back in 1868, yet it persists. One important ramification, says Jonathan S. Hausmann, a rheumatologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, who led the latest study, is to redefine fever. Most doctors use 100.4 °F or higher, but if “normal” is lower, then the fever threshold should be, too. It also should vary with the daily pattern and be tailored to each individual, Hausmann says: “A child at 99.0 °F at 4 A.M. may be highly abnormal but at 4 P.M. could be within normal limits.”

Credit: Nadieh Bremer; Sources: “Normal Oral, Rectal, Tympanic and Axillary Body Temperature in Adult Men and Women: A Systematic Literature Review,” by Märtha Sundlevander et al., in Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, Vol. 16, No. 2; June 2002; “A Critical Appraisal of 98.6 °F, the Upper Limit of the Normal Body Temperature, and Other Legacies of Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich,” by Philip A. Mackowiak et al., in JAMA, Vol. 268, No. 12; September 23–30, 1992; “Using Smartphone Crowdsourcing to Redefine Normal and Febrile Temperatures in Adults: Results from the Feverprints Study,” by Jonathan S. Hausmann et al., in Journal of General Internal Medicine. Published online August 13, 2018

Does a temperature of 96 degrees F mean I’m sick?

Body temperature can vary, but it usually ranges between 97.5 and 98.9. About 5 percent of the population has a temperature slightly higher or lower.

Low body temperature may be related to illness. But it’s often related more to the way the temperature is measured than to the health of the person.

Low body temperature may be associated with:

  • Severe infection
  • Certain medications or toxins (including alcohol)
  • Hormonal disease (including underactive thyroid, pituitary or adrenal glands)
  • Kidney failure
  • Low blood sugar or malnutrition
  • Neurologic (brain) disease
  • Prolonged exposure to a cold environment

However, many people with a low measured temperature are healthy and have a normal body temperature. The low measured temperature could be from:

  • A bad thermometer
  • The person just had something cold to eat or drink
  • The thermometer wasn’t under the tongue
  • The mouth was open

Also, your temperature will be lower (by about 1 degree) if it’s measured in the armpit rather than mouth.

If you feel well and do not seem to be at risk for any of the diseases listed above, your temperature may be normal. Or, your low temperature may be normal for you. But if you have concerns, see your doctor. He or she will review any symptoms you may have, examine you and re-check your temperature. Depending on the findings, additional evaluation and treatment may be needed.

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For years, I’ve noticed that my temperature is often lower than what it’s “supposed” to be. On a normal day, it might be 97; if I’ve got chills and other clear symptoms of a fever, it won’t necessarily register over 100. Weird, right? But other people tell me they’ve had the same experience.

It turns out that body temperature is not so predictable. The idea that normal is 98.6 came from a German physician who, more than a century ago, documented the normal variation in body temperature and noted that the average tended to be around 37 degrees Celsius. (That corresponds to 98.6 Fahrenheit.)

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Even so, he knew that normal is a range of temperatures, not a specific point on the thermometer. Our bodies are coolest in the wee hours of the morning, and we warm up during the day, hitting a peak in the evening. On top of this, activity can change our temperature: we’re hotter when we exercise, for example.

If you have a menstrual cycle, body temperature also varies over the course of the month. After ovulation, you’ll run about half a degree hotter than you did for the two weeks or so before ovulation. When your period starts, your temperature will drop back down.

What this means for fevers

None of this matters much, until you try to figure out whether you, or your child, have a fever. In infants, the guideline is to call the doctor if a child less than three months old has a temperature of 100.4 when taken rectally. (Rectal temps are the most reliable in babies, and they aren’t yet able to hold a thermometer under their tongue.) For older children, ask your doctor, but there may not be a specific cutoff.

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Temperature readings differ depending on where you take the measurement. Rectal temperatures will be slightly higher than an oral (mouth) reading, and axillary (armpit) temperatures will be a bit lower.

While we know that normal variation doesn’t always stick to that 98.6 number, it turns out that people’s normal temperatures seem to have declined over time since that number was established. New research has concluded that the current average is more like 97.5 degrees.

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Why the difference? It could be that our modern lives have changed our bodies in some way—we tend to be taller, for example. It could also be that the “healthy” patients in the original studies were not as healthy as they looked. Perhaps they had chronic infections or other health conditions that elevated their temperature, researcher Julie Parsonnet told the Wall Street Journal.

In any case, 98.6 was never an ironclad rule, and it has less support than it did before. So if you seem like you’re always running a little lower than the textbook average, that may be perfectly normal.

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Hypothermia; that is the medical term for low body temperature. Unfortunately, it leads to cold death if not addressed urgently. The idea of freezing to death is just scary. A 2014 report by CDC shows that the number of people who die due to winter-related cold is twice than that of those who die due to summer-related heat.

Hypothermia is a situation in which your body temperature plummets faster than the rate at which it produces heat. It can happen outdoors as well as indoors. Surprisingly, the environmental temperature does not have to be exceptionally low like it is in winters to develop hypothermia. The average human body temperature is 37 degrees Celsius. Hypothermia is when your body temperature starts to fall below 35 degrees Celsius.

Check this out; when your body temperature begins to dive below the 35 degrees Celsius mark, your body systems start to get impaired. For starters, your heart rate slows down, and you become numb. You will have symptoms like shivering, slurred speech, loss of consciousness and weak pulse among others. So how do people get into this uncomfortable situation? Pour yourself a cup of warm coffee and read on.

Before we dive into the causes, it is prudent to mention that there are three categories of low body temperature i.e. mild, moderate, and severe. Temperatures can vary but typically;

  • Severely low body temperature is when the temperature falls below 28 degrees Celsius (4° Fahrenheit)
  • Moderately low when between 28 degrees Celsius to 32.2 degrees Celsius (4° Fahrenheit to 90° Fahrenheit)
  • Mildly low when the temperature is between 32.2 degrees Celsius to 35 degrees Celsius (90° Fahrenheit to 95° Fahrenheit)

Causes of Low Body Temperature

1) Cold weather

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As obvious, cold weather is the main cause of low body temperature. By and large, the external environment affects our internal body temperature. Hypothermia in cold weather occurs after exposure to the cold without enough warm clothing.

Ideally, external temperatures have to be cold enough to cause your body temperature to fall. However, this depends on various factors. Body mass is a critical factor, apart from body fat, general health, and age. These factors affect the rate of heat production by the body to counter the dropping environmental temperatures. In older adults and infants, the pace at which their temperature falls is faster compared to any other adult.

Types of cold weather that can cause low body temperature include:

  • Snowy weather
  • Freezing rain
  • Cold temperatures in the house
  • Wind (cold breeze)

Yes, you can suffer hypothermia because of wind (as in riding a motorbike at high speed). Heat loss from the body happens majorly by radiation. Blowing gale carries heat from the surface of the skin at a faster rate, replacing it with cold air.

To stay safe in cold weather, you have to keep warm. Wear a warm jacket and cover the head with a hat. Cover your hands with woolen gloves. Wool and silk are the best garment materials for colder climates. In addition, taking warm, sweet drinks and lots of warm soups can help get your body temperature up after exposure to the cold.

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2) Cold water

Swimming, surfing, kayaking, and snorkeling– the list is long. Did you know that these activities put you at a risk of hypothermia? Generally speaking, any water that is cold below 35 degrees Celsius can cause low body temperature.

Water has an excellent ability to strip the body of heat. You lose body heat much faster when you are in the cold water than when you are in the cold air. A moist cold atmosphere is actually more damaging than a dry cold one.

This also happens when you are caught up in the rain, and your clothes become wet. Until you change into warmer clothes, the wet clothes will continuously siphon away your body heat putting you at risk of severe hypothermia.

Indeed, you can not suffer hypothermia until you spend more than 10 minutes in cold water. However, before that, there is another severe condition known as Cold Shock which may develop.’ We have all been there- you get into a cold shower in the morning, you gasp, for a moment you are breathless, and your blood pressure hikes. This experience lasts for about 30 seconds or a few minutes. Now here is the scary part- cold shock can be deadly. 20% of all people who die in cold water die because of Cold Shock.

Low body temperatures in water can also cause cold incapacitation. This is a situation when you can no longer move your muscles because they are frozen. How to be safe? Wear a life jacket during your water sports. This will help you stay afloat and insulate you against heat loss. If you notice symptoms of hypothermia while in water, the best thing to do is get out of the water and dry yourself. Get out of wet clothing as soon as possible.

3) Alcohol

Here is the cold truth about drinking: even though alcohol warms you up from inside, it actually causes quick and excessive heat loss from the surface, making you vulnerable to hypothermia. What happens is that alcohol causes the blood vessels under your skin to dilate, increasing the heat loss from your body.

You feel warmer after taking a swig of vodka because it diverts the blood towards the skin thus taking it away from the core. Even though you might feel warm externally, your vital organs are not as warm. Hypothermia due to alcohol happens without warning since you are feeling warm for most of the time.

In summary, below are the reasons why alcohol intoxication causes low body temperature:

  • Alcohol inhibits shivering disabling the body’s function of efficient heat creation
  • Alcohol causes vasodilation-and thus much heat is lost from the skin surface
  • Alcohol inhibits your senses, so you won’t feel cold and continue to stay out in the cold
  • You can suffer death if you pass out due to excessive drinking

To be safe? Ditch the bottle in the cold nights, when you are out there boating.

4) Old age

Older people are more susceptible to hypothermia in case of either cold weather, cold water or alcohol intoxication. There are several reasons that can cause a lower body temperature in older age. For example, as people age, they lose fat present below the skin of extremities and the skin also get drier. Both of these alterations can cause a loss of extra heat from the body.

When the clock is ticking fast on your age, you become susceptible to illness. Some of these, including diabetes, can inhibit a body’s natural response to cold.

Additionally, we become less active as we grow older. This means that in old age bodies generate less heat. The rate of metabolism slows down. For this reason, even with a minor dp in external temperature, older people can develop hypothermia fast.

In summary, below are the reasons why older people are more vulnerable to low body temperature:

  • Decreased shivering and enlarged blood vessels too close to the skin surface
  • Reduced rate of metabolism (primarily due to inactivity and weakening organs)
  • Medical conditions –diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, stroke
  • Medications for old age illnesses- sedatives, anti-depressants (these interfere with the body’s temperature regulation mechanism)

How can old people stay safe from hypothermia? Ensure that they wear many layers of clothing in the cold weather. They should also wear warm socks and slippers in the house complete with a hat. The inside air conditioning temperature should be kept between 68 degrees Fahrenheit and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You should also check with the doctors about the side effects of their medications.

5) Very young age

At a tender age, children have not fully developed mechanisms for preventing heat loss. Newborns and infants lose heat much easier than the adults as their bodies have a greater surface area as compared to their weight. Preterm babies are especially prone to losing higher levels of water and heat from the skin.

The situation worsens because children aren’t sensible enough and they might ignore the cold and go ahead to play in freezing or wet weather.

Since infants can hardly speak of their condition when suffering low body temperature, it entirely depends on adults to notice the signs and take cautionary measures.

Ways to ensure children are protected from low body temperature include:

  • Removing them from the cold and dressing them in warm clothes
  • Whenever they go out to play, ensure they are dressed warmly including a hat and waterproof gloves and boots
  • Giving them warm drinks
  • Covering you and the child in a warm blanket
  • Starting CPR and calling emergency if their breathing becomes shallow

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6) Mental problems

Mental illnesses such as dementia or schizophrenia inhibit judgment and may interfere with the body’s response to cold temperatures. People with mental illness most often dress without a care of the weather condition. This is the part where things start to go wrong. People with dementia may wander off and get lost even in snowy weather, exposing themselves to extreme coldness and wetness.

Below are the reasons why mentally ill are more susceptible to low body temperature:

  • Mental retardation- they rarely tell the difference between cold and warm weather
  • Seizure disorder
  • Nocturnal enuresis
  • Medication- drugs for psychological illness inhibit the body’s auto-response to cold temperatures.

These include beta-adrenergic, antipsychotics, and other sedatives

Caregivers should ensure that the mentally ill are dressed warmly and are kept inside the house during cold temperatures. They should also consult doctors about the adverse effects of their medications.

7) Medical conditions

The status of your health also influences your body temperature. Just as some illnesses like the common cold cause fever, other diseases cause low body temperature. No matter the weather condition, illnesses such as underactive thyroid, anorexia, diabetes, and trauma cause hypothermia.

In other cases, hormonal changes in women cause temperature to fall.

This usually happens during menstruation in women. Any illness that interferes with the thyroid gland in your neck or the adrenal glands on your kidneys causes hormonal imbalance. When these glands produce fewer hormones, it often causes the body temperature to fall. Such is what happens in hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).

Illnesses that affect the nervous system can also cause low body temperature. Stroke, for instance, significantly lowers body temperature. It is because the body cannot keep a balance between heat production and heat loss. The case is same with Parkinson’s disease. Trauma, on the other hand, affects the hypothalamus, which is a part of the brain tasked with temperature regulation. The result is a decrease in body temperature.

8) Exhaustion

Recent studies reveal that fatigue is a significant risk factor for low body temperature. In the survey, participants who worked long hours in cold weather got hypothermia. When you are fatigued in the cold, your body is unable to shiver to produce and save body heat. Fatigue and prolonged exposure to the cold impairs shivering and vasoconstriction, which are the body’s mechanisms for preventing hypothermia.

People who work in the cold are at a higher risk of developing hypothermia. Usually, they suffer severe stress and even frost bites if they fail to dress appropriately. The only way around this is to dress warmly in waterproof jackets, boots, gloves and a hat. Also noteworthy is the fact that many people who suffer low body temperature are usually malnourished. A proper mea before stepping out to work in the cold can help. If not, from which fuel would your body produce heat?

9) Dehydration

Even in the winter, you can quickly become dehydrated. Dehydration happens when you are not taking enough fluids, as you should. It is understandable; the cold makes you less thirsty. However, it is dangerous. Here are quick facts about dehydration and hypothermia.

When you lose water through sweating, urination or even breathing in the cold climates, the temperature of your body drops. You are at a higher risk of hypothermia due to the fewer fluids you take in cold weather. In cases of dehydration, the body cannot function properly. Shivering and vasoconstriction to prevent heat loss becomes inhibited. To stay safe, endeavor to take lots of warm drinks to keep hydrated.

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10) Poverty

This one is kept under wraps. Homelessness, inadequate clothing, insufficient food, you name it. All this leads to cases of hypothermic deaths during winter. When poor people cannot afford cozy homes and warm clothing, it is evident that their body temperatures fall as they have to cope with brutal cold outside. Low body temperature is a significant cause of deaths among the homeless sleeping on the streets. Most of these people also hardly get a meal in a day.

Far from the streets, not everyone can afford to warm their homes in the winter. Electricity bills have skyrocketed. When this happens, older people and infants are particularly at a higher risk of succumbing to low body temperature.

Briefly, low body temperature is a biological condition that depends on various external factors. Effects could be mild to severe and even fatal. To stay safe, you need to keep fit, healthy and warm. It sounds easy. But it does require some efforts.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Low Body Temperature:

As we have already discussed, low body temperature is generally classified under the categories of mild, moderate and severe; the signs and symptoms respective to each stage are discussed below:

For Mildly Low Body Temperature, Signs and Symptoms Include:

  • Shivering
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing
  • Numbness in the extremities
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Impaired judgement
  • Apathy and fatigue
  • Lack of coordination

For Moderately Low Body Temperature, Signs and Symptoms Include:

  • Irregular heart rate
  • Irregular breathing
  • Shivering may stop
  • Decreased level of consciousness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Decreased gag reflex

For Severely Low Body Temperature, Signs and Symptoms Include:

  • Labored breathing
  • Muscles become rigid
  • Heart failure
  • Decreased urine output
  • Fluid accumulation in the lungs
  • Non-reactive pupils
  • Coma
  • Cardiac arrest

Infants with low body temperature may show:

  • Very low energy
  • A weak cry
  • Poor feeding
  • Bright red screen
  • Cold skin

Most of the times, low body temperature starts gradually and worsens progressively if left untreated. Therefore, it should not be taken lightly.

Additionally, general signs and symptoms of low body temperature may include:

Dizziness, hunger, nausea, irritability, tiredness, difficulty in talking, slurred speech, significant confusion, drowsiness, weak pulse, apathy, etc.

Myth Regarding Low Body Temperature:

One myth regarding low body temperature is that we lose heat through our head more than any other part of the body. However, this is not true. Heat can be lost through any area of the skin that is in contact with the environment. The head of an adult is around 10 percent of the total body surface area. Most of the times, rest of the body is covered, with the possible exemption of the hands (which together just make up for around 4 percent of our total body surface area), so we feel cold as our head is cold in comparison with rest of the body.

If an individual has to expose some other part of his body, for instance, his abdomen, which also makes up around 10 percent of the weight of an average adult – then he would lose as much heat through it as his uncovered head.

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First Aid for Low Body Temperature:

If you find someone around you who has a lower than normal body temperature, you need to act quickly and wisely as any delay may bring the life of that person in significant danger. You can follow the below mentioned steps:

  • First of all, you need to prevent any further heat loss. This can be done by preventing the 4 mechanisms by which heat loss can occur, including:

1- Conduction: If possible, remove the person from a cold surface and place him onto a warm one or at least on a dry surface to hinder any further loss of heat.

2- Convection: Keep the person away from a wet or windy environment. Covering him with a blanket can be good but the goal should be to bring him to a shelter.

3- Radiation: Cover the person as thorough as possible to avoid heat loss via radiation.

4- Evaporation: Sweaty and wet people will suffer more heat loss through evaporation. As soon as practicable, remove wet clothing from the person and when possible, dry the whole body.

  • Move the person away from the cold; if this is not possible, insulate his body to keep it from touching any cold surface. If that person has moderately or severely low body temperature, move him as gently as possible. Approximately below 30° centigrade, the heart is quite vulnerable and there are cases reported that showed even simple movements like rolling over the person may prompt a cardiac arrest.
  • Try to warm the person but do not use hot water for immersion. Use any available heat source like heaters, hot water bottles, an electric blanket, heat packs to begin warming the person slowly. The source of heat should not be too hot and should not be placed too close to the person. A gradual warming is optimal and whatever heat source is being used, it just needs to be warmer than the person to effectively provide heat. If you are using multiple small sources of heat, such as hot packs or water bottles, it is preferred to place and pack them around torso, groin and into armpits to focus warmth on the central areas of the body. If no such heat source is available, you can share your own body heat with the person by making skin to skin contact with him. Lie next to him with clothes removed.
  • Do not give him alcohol as it decreases the body’s ability to conserve heat. If the person is oriented and able to swallow, offer him warm water to drink or non-alcoholic beverages. You can also give him energy foods containing sugars, for example, a chocolate bar. Avoid giving them anything orally, even liquids if vomiting or unconscious.
  • Monitor breathing continuously and if he stops breathing, call for help and begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if you are trained. If untrained, call the emergency helpline and the operators can guide you through the steps. Continue it until the person starts breathing spontaneously or professional help arrives in the form of a medical team or ambulance service. Do not hurry in assuming the person dead in cases of low body temperature as CPR can be lifesaving even in cases of severely low body temperature. The person may look dead apparently, he may not be breathing, may be cold to touch, have no pulse, have non-reactive pupils and become rigid – but he still might be alive.

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Preventing Low Body Temperature:

The best defense against low body temperature is perhaps, prevention. Simple ways that can prevent it include:

  • Avoiding prolonged stay outdoors in cold weather
  • Stay updated to the weather status and act and dress accordingly
  • Wear more layers of clothing than usual to trap heat inside the body. Natural fibers like wool are very effective at preserving heat
  • Use a weatherproof outermost layer to keep yourself dry.
  • Use insulated boots and use scarves, gloves, and socks
  • Wear a warm headgear
  • Eat nutritional food regularly and consume plenty of warm fluids
  • Take rest often to reduce the chances of physical tiredness
  • If your clothing is wet, change it straight away
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes
  • Keep a first aid kit always with you with all the basic necessities

Hypothermia causes a lot more deaths than many people realize and it affects people of all ages. Hypothermia can occur both outdoors as well as indoors and it doesn’t have to be below zero for someone’s body temperature to get dangerously low fast! In fact, hypothermia can occur at cool temperatures (those above 40 degrees Fahrenheit) if you become chilled due to sweat, rain or being in cold water. (1)

Recently, and very sadly, a young Michigan college student hiking passed away from hypothermia while this same year, an elderly woman stranded outdoors for over four hours in temperatures in the mid-30s also succumbed to death resulting from hypothermia.

Before you think this is only an article for campers and outdoorsy types, hypothermia can also happen indoors. And the very young as well as the elderly can be particularly susceptible. In addition, a low body temperature can also be caused by opioid abuse, hypothyroidism, anorexia, septic shock and more. (2)

Shivering is typically one of the first signs of your body temperature dropping and it’s actually a defense mechanism that the body uses to keep itself warm. Hypothermia is known for coming on gradually, so it’s important to know the signs and best treatment before it’s too late!

What Is Low Body Temperature?

Human body temperature, whether too high or too low, can be indicative of a wide array of health concerns. Low body temperature — or hypothermia — is a body temperature dangerously below normal temperature. This health condition results from the body losing heat faster than it can produce heat. Another more simple hypothermia definition: subnormal temperature of the body. (3)

I’m sure you’re getting the picture — when you have hypothermia you are definitely feeling cold and the situation needs to be addressed right away because hypothermia symptoms follow a spectrum of progression from mild to outright deadly.

What is the normal body temperature? The average normal human body temperature is generally said to be around 98.6 F or 37 degrees Celsius. However, what’s considered a normal body temperature can differ from person to person. It can also vary depending on the time of day; your sex; what you recently ate or drank; where you are in your menstrual cycle (if you’re a woman); your level of physical activity; and your age. Research has shown that “normal” can be anywhere from 97 F (36 C) to 99 F (37.2 C). (4)

While a temperature higher than 100.4 F (38 C) is considered a fever, hypothermia is said to occur when the body temperature drops below 95 F (35 C). (5) Hypothermia has a spectrum from mild to severe. Temperatures can vary, but mild hypothermia is typically considered a body temperature between 89 F–95 F; moderate hypothermia is a body temperature between 82 F–89 F; and severe hypothermia is a body temperature lower than 82 F. (6)

Common Signs and Symptoms of Low Body Temperature

When you have hypothermia, your body’s normal temperature regulation abilities get overpowered, resulting in a body temperature that is much too low. Basically, heat loss wins over heat production.

Hypothermia typically comes on gradually and gets progressively worse as it is left untreated. Hypothermia symptoms commonly progress in the following way: (7)

  • Cold feet, hands, and face
  • Shivering (older adults may not have this symptom)
  • Tiredness
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion, irrational thinking
  • Irritability
  • Cold skin on the chest and abdomen
  • Poor coordination and balance
  • Stiff, jerking movements
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Slowed or irregular heartbeat
  • Stiff muscles and some trembling
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of heartbeat, leading to death

For infants, some important hypothermia signs to look for include: (8)

  • Bright red skin that is cold to the touch
  • Unusually low energy

Causes and Risk Factors

Common causes of hypothermia include cold weather exposure or being submerged in cold water. (9)

Sometimes individuals experience a low body temperature because they have an infection, but this scenario is most likely to occur in people who are frail or older adults and newborns. Babies can’t regulate their body temperature like adults, so they are prone to fast heat loss.

Other things that can cause hypothermia include: (10)

  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Anesthesia
  • Anorexia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Malnutrition
  • Medicines such as antidepressants, antipsychotics and sedatives
  • Nerve damage
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Sepsis
  • Stroke

Wilson’s syndrome, also called Wilson’s temperature syndrome, is another condition typically more accepted as a diagnosis in the alternative medicine world. According to the American Thyroid Association, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support this diagnosis, which typically includes low body temperature and hypothyroid symptoms. (11, 12)

Conditions and risk factors that can lead to a case of hypothermia include: (13, 14)

  • Cold indoor or outdoor temperatures
  • Being outdoors for extended periods of time
  • Infants, children and elderly without sufficient heat, shelter, food and/or clothing
  • Babies sleeping in cold bedrooms
  • Dehydration
  • Improper clothing and equipment
  • Wetness
  • Having a mental illness
  • Being homeless
  • Fatigue, exhaustion
  • Poor food intake
  • Alcohol intake, which causes vasodilation leading to increased heat loss
  • Lack of knowledge of hypothermia

Conventional Treatment

The first step if you or someone you know has hypothermia is to seek emergency medical care by calling 911.

According to Mayo Clinic, while waiting for emergency assistance you should “gently” move the person inside if they are outdoors and if it’s possible. However, be careful not to make any jarring movements that could bring on dangerous heartbeat irregularities. If the person is wearing wet clothing, then switching out that clothing for dry, warm coats or blankets is a helpful idea. (15)

5 Natural Treatments for Low Body Temperature

People can recover from even severe cases of hypothermia with prompt and appropriate treatment. Conventional treatment and natural treatment of hypothermia definitely have a lot of overlap. The following are treatment recommendations for hypothermia that both conventional and natural medical practitioners are likely to agree on.

While waiting for emergency medical care to arrive at your location, here are some of the best natural things to do for hypothermia:

1. Handle with Care

Alaska is certainly a state that deals with hypothermia on a regular basis. According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services:

A patient with moderate to severe hypothermia should be handled very gently and kept horizontal if at all possible. When cold, the heart is very prone to ventricular fibrillation with any disturbance. Even cautious movement of a patient may induce VF. A patient who is moderately or severely hypothermic and not in cardiac arrest may experience severe cardiovascular stress if placed in a vertical position. (16)

2. Gradual Rewarming

If the victim is outdoors, keeping the head and neck warm is key. If you can’t move the person indoors, then putting something between them and the cold ground is helpful. Remove wet clothing promptly. At this point, the CDC recommends the following rewarming measures: (17)

  • First, begin to warm the center of the body first (chest, neck, head and groin) using an electric blanket, if possible.
  • Use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of sheets, blankets, towels or clothing.
  • Once there is an increase in body temperature continue to keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket making sure to include the neck and head for optimal warming.

3. Warm, Sweet Beverages

As part of the rewarming process, it’s recommended to give the victim warm, sweet liquids. Of course, this is only a good idea if the person can swallow normally. Do not attempt to give liquids to someone who is unconscious. A warm beverage can help the person to increase their core temperature from the inside out and the sugar content can help give them some quick fuel. (18)

Some commonly recommended warm, sweet drinks include hot chocolate and hot apple cider. I have some healthy recipes for both:

  • Hot Cocoa Recipe
  • Spiced Hot Apple Cider Recipe (just leave out the citrus fruit slices to make it easier to sip)

4. CPR

Severe hypothermia can cause someone to lose consciousness. To those around them, it can seem like there is no breathing taking place. It also may be difficult to find a pulse. In addition to practicing gentle handling, the CDC says:

Even if the victim appears dead, CPR should be provided. CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated. (19)

5. What NOT to Do

What not to do in an emergency medical situation is just as important as what you should do. If you are caring for someone with hypothermia, there are many things you should not do and some of them are quite surprising. If you didn’t know better, you would think many of these sound like the perfect natural treatments, but trust the experts on this!

So what shouldn’t you do if you’re caring for someone with hypothermia? You should not give someone with hypothermia alcoholic beverages or cigarettes. It’s also key not to attempt to rewarm someone with low body temperature too quickly. So as smart as it may seem, don’t put them in a hot bath or under a heating lamp. The CDC recommends warming the center of the body, but it’s actually recommended not to warm the arms and legs because this can put too much stress on the heart and lungs. (20)

Precautions

Always call 911 if you believe you or someone you know is suffering from hypothermia. If you notice any hypothermia symptoms, take the person’s temperature and if it is below 95 F, then the situation is an emergency and you need to seek medical attention right away. For a baby, a temperature below 97 degrees is too low. (21)

Also seek urgent medical attention for a low body temperature that may be due to infections or other medical conditions such as diabetes.

Key Points

  • It’s a smart idea to keep a thermometer on hand in case you need to check if you or someone you care for has a low body temperature. Hypothermia is a very dangerous health condition and prompt care is crucial to successful recovery.
  • It’s important to check on elderly people who live alone regularly when it’s cold outside to make sure their body temperatures and homes are warm enough.
  • Many people who experience hypothermia are dehydrated or lacking in nourishment. So no matter your age, make sure to take care of yourself, especially when you’re in conditions that can put you at risk for hypothermia.
  • Consuming more warming foods like soups and stews is a great move in the colder, winter months to help keep your core temperature up. Also, try incorporating more warming spices into your diet such as ginger, turmeric, garlic and cayenne.
  • Of course, dressing appropriately for the weather, removing wet shoes and clothing promptly, and keeping your home warm enough are all crucial to avoiding a chill that could lead to low body temperature.
  • Remember that hypothermia is not just a risk of the winter or wilderness, so stay warm year-round, inside or out!

Read Next: Pneumonia Symptoms, Risk Factors & Natural Treatments

Why Am I Always Hot?

10. Menopause

Hot flashes are the most common symptom of menopause, occurring in as many as 3 out of 4 people. Hot flashes are most prevalent in the year before and year after your last period, but they can continue for as long as 14 years.

Doctors don’t know why hot flashes are so common during the menopausal transition, but it has something to do with changing hormone levels.

During a hot flash, you may experience any of the following:

  • sudden feeling of intense heat, particularly in your upper body
  • flushing or redness in the face and neck
  • red blotches on the arms, back, or chest
  • heavy sweating
  • cold chills after hot flashes

Try these hot flash remedies for relief.

11. Perimenopause

Menopause officially begins when you go 12 months without getting your period. The years prior to this are known as perimenopause.

During this transitional time, your hormone levels fluctuate without warning. When your hormone levels dip, you may experience symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes.

Perimenopause typically starts in your mid- to late-40s and lasts about four years.

Other signs of perimenopause include:

  • missed or irregular periods
  • periods that are longer or shorter than usual
  • unusually light or heavy periods

12. Primary ovarian insufficiency

Primary ovarian insufficiency, also known as premature ovarian failure, happens when your ovaries stop working properly before age 40.

When your ovaries aren’t functioning properly, they don’t produce enough estrogen. This can cause premature menopause symptoms, including hot flashes.

Other signs of ovarian insufficiency in women under 40 include:

  • irregular or missed periods
  • vaginal dryness
  • trouble getting pregnant
  • decreased sexual desire
  • trouble concentrating

If you’re having menopause symptoms and you’re under age 40, make an appointment with your healthcare provider.

13. PMS

PMS is the collection of physical and emotional symptoms that affect most females in the days before their period.

During this time in the reproductive cycle (after ovulation and before menstruation), hormone levels hit their lowest point. These hormonal dips can cause many symptoms, from cramps and bloating to depression and anxiety.

For some, the decrease in estrogen can lead to a symptom more commonly associated with menopause: hot flashes.

PMS-related hot flashes may show up in the week prior to your period. They feel like an intense wave of heat starting in your midsection and moving up toward your face and neck. You may also experience profuse sweating, followed by a chill.

Try these PMS hacks for relief.

14. Pregnancy

Although hot flashes are typically associated with decreased hormone levels, they’re also quite common during pregnancy.

Hormonal fluctuations that occur at different times during and after pregnancy can affect the way your body regulates temperature, which can leave you feeling generally hotter and sweatier than normal.

Short, intense episodes of overheating during or after pregnancy are better described as hot flashes. Research suggests as many as 35 percent of women may experience a hot flash during their pregnancy.

Here’s a look at some other unexpected pregnancy symptoms.

The best ways to reduce body heat

The cause of high body temperature can be external or internal. Below, we list some of the main reasons why a person may feel hotter than usual:

Hot environment

Spending time outside in very hot weather can increase a person’s body temperature, as can being in a hot indoor environment for extended periods. Wearing too many layers in either situation can also lead to an increase in body temperature.

Overexposure to sun or heat

Share on PinterestA person may experience heatstroke if they spend too much time in the sun.

Spending too much time in the sun can increase body heat or even lead to heatstroke, which some people call sunstroke.

Children and older adults are particularly at risk of heatstroke. Dehydration from spending too much time in the sun can further increase body heat. Therefore, it is important to drink lots of fluids and to rest after prolonged sun or heat exposure.

Doctors categorize overexposure to heat into three levels: heat cramp, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke.

Heat cramp, although hard on the body, does not require medical attention. It tends to subside with plenty of rest and rehydration.

The symptoms of heat cramp include:

  • high body temperature
  • dizziness
  • muscle pain or stiffness

Heat exhaustion requires medical attention if the symptoms last for longer than an hour or get worse over time.

In addition to the symptoms of heat cramp, a person may experience:

  • vomiting
  • headaches
  • reduced concentration or impaired judgment

Heatstroke is very serious and requires medical attention at a hospital.

The symptoms of heatstroke include those of heat cramp, as well as:

  • seizures
  • difficulty maintaining consciousness
  • liver failure

Learn more about the difference between heat exhaustion and heatstroke here.

Exercise or moving more than usual

When a person moves, they create energy. Heat is the body’s way of releasing energy. To reduce body heat, a person can try temporarily moving less or only when necessary.

Perimenopause or menopause

During perimenopause and menopause, people often experience hot flashes and night sweats, both of which temporarily elevate body temperature.

Medications, hormones, and recreational drugs

Medications and other drugs can raise a person’s body temperature by affecting either heat loss or heat production.

Reducing heat loss

Some medications, including diuretics and anticholinergics, can impair the body’s ability to lose heat by sweating.

Beta-blockers, neuroleptic drugs, inhaled anesthetics, and succinylcholine also decrease the body’s ability to get rid of excess heat.

Increasing heat production

Some medications, hormones, and recreational drugs cause the body to produce excess heat because they increase the metabolic rate. These include:

  • amphetamines
  • cocaine
  • methamphetamines
  • thyroid hormone, in excess

Being unwell

Body temperature also increases in response to germs such as viruses and bacteria. An increased body temperature helps the body fight off invading illnesses, which is why a fever is often a sign of getting sick.

Thyroid storm

A thyroid storm is an excess of thyroid hormone in the body. It is a life threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. A thyroid storm may occur after illness, surgery, infection, or pregnancy.

As well as a very high body temperature, symptoms of a thyroid storm include:

  • rapid heartbeat
  • sweating
  • nausea or vomiting
  • agitation
  • jaundice
  • abdominal pain

Malignant hyperthermia

Malignant hyperthermia is a genetic condition that causes a person to have a severe reaction to certain medications and drugs.

The symptoms include a rapid or irregular heartbeat, a very high body temperature, and severe muscle spasms. People with this condition require immediate medical attention.

Learn more about hyperthermia here.

5 causes of cold intolerance

There are many reasons why a person might feel cold all the time, including:

1. Hypothyroidism

Share on PinterestSymptoms of hypothyroidism can include fatigue, depression, and feeling cold.

Cold intolerance is a well known symptom of hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones. These hormones help regulate metabolism and temperature.

When the thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormones, the body’s processes tend to slow down.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • feeling cold
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • thinning hair
  • constipation
  • problems with menstruation
  • a low heart rate

A doctor can diagnose hypothyroidism with a simple blood test. Treatment often consists of thyroid hormone replacement.

2. Raynaud’s disease

Raynaud’s disease affects the arteries in the fingers, toes, or both. These arteries become narrow, which reduces blood flow.

During these episodes, the fingers and toes can turn blue or white. As blood flow returns, the fingers and toes can become red and feel numb or painful.

Cold temperatures and stress can trigger episodes of Raynaud’s. Treatment involves avoiding triggers if possible and, for some people, medication or surgery.

3. Anemia

Anemia occurs when a person does not have enough red blood cells circulating and carrying oxygen throughout the body. Symptoms of anemia, including feeling cold, result from a relative lack of oxygen.

Other symptoms can include:

  • feeling cold in the hands or feet
  • weakness or fatigue
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • trouble breathing
  • an increased heart rate
  • headache
  • pale skin

There are several kinds of anemia. Types that may make a person feel cold include:

Iron-deficiency anemia

Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia. It typically occurs due to blood loss but can also result from poor iron absorption.

People who are pregnant or menstruating are at risk of iron-deficiency anemia.

Vitamin-deficiency anemia

Anemia can also result from nutritional deficiency. Low levels of vitamin B-12 and folic acid can lead to anemia, usually from inadequate dietary intake.

4. Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa, or just “anorexia,” is an eating disorder characterized by weight loss or inadequate weight gain and a distorted body image.

People with anorexia may intensely restrict their food intake, exercise excessively, or purge with laxatives or by vomiting.

Anorexia can cause a person to experience cold intolerance due to inadequate body fat.

Other symptoms of anorexia can include:

  • weight loss
  • stomach problems, such as constipation or cramping
  • trouble concentrating
  • dizziness or fainting
  • the lack of a period in menstruating women
  • dry, brittle hair or nails
  • weakness
  • poor wound healing
  • intense fear of becoming overweight
  • restricting certain foods or categories of food
  • being secretive about food intake
  • fear of eating in public
  • social isolation

Treatment of anorexia nervosa often involves a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, and nutritionists. A person may benefit from talk therapy in addition to medication and a nutrition plan.

5. Peripheral artery disease

Peripheral artery disease occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that carry blood to the rest of the body. Another name for this buildup is atherosclerosis.

The accumulation of plaque in the arteries makes them narrower, which means that it is more difficult for blood to flow through them.

Peripheral artery disease often causes decreased blood flow to the extremities, creating a feeling of coldness, numbness, tingling, or pain in the hands, feet, or both. In severe cases, peripheral artery disease can lead to tissue death.

Treatment for peripheral artery disease often includes lifestyle changes, such as exercising and quitting smoking. Some people also need surgery.

Hypothermia (Low Body Temperature)

What is hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a condition that occurs when the body’s temperature drops below 95° F (35° C). Normal body temperature is 98.6° F (37° C). Hypothermia is a medical emergency.

When a person’s body temperature is dangerously low, the brain and body cannot function properly. Left untreated, hypothermia can lead to cardiac arrest (heart stops beating) and death.

How common is hypothermia?

Mild, treatable cases of hypothermia are more common, especially among groups of people who are at risk. In the United States, more than 1,300 people die every year from hypothermia.

Who is at risk for developing hypothermia?

Although anyone can get hypothermia, certain people, conditions and situations increase the risk of developing hypothermia. These include:

  • Older people. The ability to control body temperature lessens with age. Elderly also tend to expend less energy (which generates heat to keep the body warm) because they are less active than younger people. They may live in a house or other environment that is too cold.
  • Young children. Children use more calories (energy) than adults and may use up their reserve while playing and not even realize they are cold.
  • Babies. Infants lose body heat more easily than adults, don’t have the energy reserve to shiver to increase their body heat and can even become hypothermic if they sleep in a cold room. Signs of hypothermia in an infant include cold skin, bright red skin, inactivity/lack of energy, and body temperature under 95° F (35° C).
  • Inexperienced outdoor adventure seekers such as hikers, hunters, fishers who do not have appropriate gear for the cold and wet conditions they may encounter.
  • People who abuse alcohol or recreational drugs. Alcohol expands blood vessels, allowing heat to leave the skin surface more rapidly. Alcohol as well as drug use can impair a person’s ability to feel cold and/or not have good judgment about wearing appropriate clothing to match the weather conditions or coming inside when cold.
  • Homeless people. Homeless people may not have or not choose indoor shelter options with heat. They also may not have clothing appropriate for the weather conditions.
  • People with mental health problems. People who have dementia or other intellectual impairment may lack the ability to judge weather conditions, may wander away from home and get lost, and may not wear appropriate clothing to stay warm for an extended time in cold weather.
  • People with certain medical conditions may be more susceptible to cold temperature. These conditions include hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, hypopituitarism, shock, sepsis, anorexia nervosa, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, spinal cord injury.
  • Medications that can impair a person’s response to cold include sedatives, anesthetics, opioids, phenothiazine antipsychotics and clonidine

How do people get hypothermia?

Hypothermia occurs after exposure to cold, wet or windy conditions. When you are exposed to cold, your body expends energy to keep you warm. Eventually, with continued exposure to cold temperature, your body uses up its stored energy and your body temperature begins to fall.

It should be noted that hypothermia can occur in temperatures over 40° F. Hypothermia occurs under environmental conditions (wet, cool/cold, or windy) that cause a person’s body to lose more heat than it generates.

What are the symptoms of hypothermia?

Signs of mild hypothermia (95° F to 89.6° F // 35° C to 32° C) include:

  • Shivering and chattering teeth
  • Exhaustion
  • Clumsiness, slow movements and reactions; prone to falling
  • Sleepiness
  • Weak pulse
  • Fast heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Pale skin color
  • Confusion and poor judgment/loss of awareness
  • Excessive urination

Signs of moderate hypothermia (89.6° F to 82.4° F // 32° C to 28° C) include:

  • Slowdown in breathing and heart rate
  • Slurred speech
  • Decline in mental function
  • Loss of shivering
  • Bluish color to skin
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Weakened reflexes
  • Loss of consciousness

Signs of severe hypothermia (< 82.4° F // 28° C) include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Fluid in lungs
  • Absence of reflexes
  • Low urine output
  • Heart stops beating (cardiac arrest)
  • Coma that may mimic death
  • Death

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Hot and Cold: Extreme Temperature Safety

As with high temperatures, don’t rely solely on the thermometer reading of environmental air for gauging cold temperatures. The speed of the wind and external body moisture can cause a chill that dramatically changes your body’s rate of cooling and how you feel. In extremely cold weather, especially with a high wind chill factor, you can quickly experience the onset of hypothermia. Falling into cold water can also result in immersion hypothermia.

Some cold-related illnesses include:

  • hypothermia
  • frostbite
  • trench foot (or “immersion foot”)
  • chilblains
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • cold-induced hives

In addition to these illnesses, winter weather can cause major inconveniences for travelers. Always be prepared to deal with heavy snow and extreme cold, whether you’re on the road or at home.

Symptoms

When your body first drops below 98.6&ring;F (37&ring;C), you may experience:

  • shivering
  • an increased heart rate
  • a slight decrease in coordination
  • an increased urge to urinate

When your body temperature is between 91.4&ring; and 85.2&ring;F (33&ring; and 30&ring;C), you’ll:

  • decrease or stop shivering
  • fall into a stupor
  • feel drowsy
  • be unable to walk
  • experience quick alternations between rapid heart rate and breathing too slowly
  • shallow breathing

Between 85.2&ring; and 71.6&ring;F (30&ring;C and 22&ring;C), you’ll experience:

  • minimal breathing
  • poor to no reflexes
  • inability to move or respond to stimuli
  • low blood pressure
  • possibly coma

A body temperature below 71.6&ring;F (22&ring;C) can result in muscles becoming rigid, blood pressure becoming extremely low or even absent, heart and breathing rates decreasing, and it can ultimately lead to death.

Treatment

If someone passes out, shows multiple symptoms listed above, and has a body temperature of 95&ring;F (35&ring;C) or lower, call 911 immediately. Perform CPR if the person isn’t breathing or doesn’t have a pulse.

To treat hypothermia, get out of the cold as soon as possible and to a warmer environment. Remove any damp or wet clothing and start warming up the middle areas of your body, including your head, neck, and chest, with a heating pad or against the skin of someone with a normal body temperature. Drink something warm to gradually increase your body temperature, but don’t have anything alcoholic.

Even after you begin to feel warm again, stay dry and keep yourself wrapped up in a warm blanket. Seek medical help right away to minimize the harm to your body.

To treat frostbite, soak the affected area in warm water no hotter than 105&ring;F (40&ring;C) and wrap it in gauze. Keep any toes or fingers affected by frostbite separated from each other to avoid rubbing the areas against each other. Do not rub, use, or walk on frostbitten skin, as this can cause tissue damage. See your doctor if you still can’t feel anything on your frostbitten skin after 30 minutes.

Prevention

It’s essential to protect anyone experiencing early symptoms of hypothermia. If possible, remove them from the cold immediately. Don’t try to warm a person suffering from serious hypothermia with vigorous exercise or rubbing, as this can lead to further problems.

To prevent cold-related illness, take one or more of these measures when the temperature starts to drop:

  • eat substantial meals regularly and drink plenty of water
  • avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine
  • remain inside near a source of heat
  • wear a hat, beanie, or something similar on your head to retain heat and gloves or mittens on your hands
  • wear multiple layers of clothing
  • use lotion and lip balm to prevent dryness of your skin and lips
  • bring extra clothes to change into in case you get damp or wet
  • wear sunglasses when it’s snowing or extremely bright outside to avoid snow blindness

Risk factors

Common risk factors for hypothermia and frostbite include:

  • being younger than 4 or older than 65
  • consuming alcohol, caffeine, or tobacco
  • being dehydrated
  • exposing skin to extremely cold temperatures, especially when exercising and sweating
  • becoming damp or wet in cold temperatures

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