Hypothermia (hi-poe-THUR-me-uh) is defined as a drop in body temperature to less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) or 35 degrees Celsius (°C) as result of exposure to cold weather or a natural environment. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it’s produced. Hypothermia is dangerous and can quickly become life threatening. Don’t wait - call 911 first if you or someone else is showing signs of hypothermia!
Body temperature can drop when a person spends a long period of time exposed to cold temperatures. Loss of body heat can also occur when a person becomes wet with water or sweat, even in milder temperatures. It is important to note this condition can happen indoors as well as outdoors, especially when someone isn’t properly clothed or lives in a poorly heated home. Factors that contribute to hypothermia include:
- substance influence or abuse (alcohol and drugs),
- underlying medical condition (such as heart disease, diabetes, dementia or other mental health condition; sometimes the medications used to treat them),
- accidental falls, immersion in water, and motor vehicle accidents,
- outdoor work or hobbies,
- lack of resources (food, clothing and shelter), and
- age (infants and young children, and older adults are especially vulnerable).
Hypothermia can happen to anyone; however, some people are at greater risk and may need assistance to stay safe in cold weather.
Be Safe, Aware and Prepared for Cold Weather
Find a Warming Center
Locate nearest warming centers in Missouri for a place to warm up. For overnight shelter from cold, call United Way 2-1-1 or contact local emergency management.
Protect Adults in Need
Report older adults and adults with disabilities in need of assistance due to cold temperatures.
You can make a report 24/7 online or call the state's toll-free number 1-800-392-0210. Operators are available 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. seven days a week.
View Hypothermia Data
View data and information on hypothermia deaths and associated risk factors in Missouri, vulnerable populations, and resources to stay safe in cold weather.
Are you or someone you know in need of help with home utility costs? Visit the Department of Social Services’ Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to learn more.
Warning Signs of Hypothermia May Include:
- Uncontrollable shivering. In severe cases of hypothermia, shivering stops
- Glassy stare
- Impaired judgment
- Slow or slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
- Bright red skin and very low energy level in infants
What to Do Until Help Arrives
After calling 911 for immediate medical assistance,
- Gently move the victim to a warm place
- Monitor the victim’s blood pressure and breathing
- If needed, give rescue breathing and CPR
- Remove wet clothing
- Dry off the victim
- Take the victim’s temperature
- Warm the body core first, NOT the extremities. Warming the extremities first can cause shock. It can also drive cold blood toward the heart and lead to heart failure
- DO NOT warm the victim too fast. Rapid warming may cause heart arrhythmias
How to Prevent Hypothermia
- Be aware of the warning signs of cold-related illness, such as uncontrollable shivering, sleepiness, confusion, changes in skin color, slurred speech and loss of consciousness.
- Stay indoors and in a warm area. If heat is not available, consider a visit to a shopping mall, public library, movie theater, church, community building or shelter.
- Increase your fluid intake – regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink fluids. Ensure infants and children drink adequate amounts of liquids.
- Avoid drinks containing caffeine and alcohol because they affect how your body reacts to the cold. Warm fluids such as broth or juice are good, as well as sports drinks.
- Wear something on your head. Fifty percent of all body heat is lost through the head so wearing a hat will keep your whole body warmer.
- Protect the ears and face. Wear a scarf to protect your lungs from cold air – it will also protect your ears and face.
- Wear waterproof boots.
- Several layers of clothing is better than a single heavy layer. The space between the layers works as insulation to help keep you warmer.
- Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking prescription drugs. Some drugs can affect the way your body reacts to the cold.
- Minimize sitting or squatting in the cold for prolonged periods of time. These activities can hinder circulation.
- While outdoors, take frequent breaks in a warm place.
- If you have to be outdoors, schedule outdoor activities during the warmest part of the day, usually 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Adjust to outdoor activity. Stretch and do a few exercises before going outside to work to avoid muscle strain. Extreme cold puts extra strain on the heart – no matter what your age or physical condition.
- Use the buddy system. Monitor the condition of your co-workers and have someone do the same for you. The buddy system can be used to inspect for signs of frostbite. Just before freezing, the skin, especially on the face, becomes bright red. Then small patches of white appear, as freezing actually occurs.
- Prevent chapped skin by frequent application of protective lotions.
- Carry extra clothes with you such as socks, gloves, hats and jacket so you can change them if you get wet.
Besides Hyperthermia, other Cold-Related Illnesses can affect your health.
- DHSS Frigid with a Chance of Frostbite (flier or brochure)
- CDC-National Center for Environmental Health Stay Safe and Healthy in Winter – tips for preparing your home, vehicle, and for emergencies
- CDC Winter Weather – health & safety tips
- CDC-NIOSH Cold Stress – workplace safety and health
- Other External Resources related to cold and cold stress, winter weather and storms, and preparedness and safety