Low body temperature; Cold exposure; Exposure
Hypothermia is dangerously low body temperature, below 95°F (35°C).
Other types of cold injuries that affect the limbs are called peripheral cold injuries. Of these, frostbite is the most common freezing injury. Nonfreezing injuries that occur from exposure to cold wet conditions include trench foot and immersion foot conditions. Chilblains (also known as pernio) are small, itchy or painful lumps on the skin that often occur on the fingers, ears, or toes. They are a type of nonfreezing injury that develops in cold, dry conditions.
You are more likely to develop hypothermia if you are:
Hypothermia occurs when more heat is lost than the body can make. In most cases, it occurs after long periods in the cold.
Common causes include:
As a person develops hypothermia, they slowly lose the ability to think and move. In fact, they may even be unaware that they need emergency treatment. Someone with hypothermia also is likely to have frostbite.
The symptoms include:
Lethargy (weakness and sleepiness), cardiac arrest, shock, and coma can set in without prompt treatment. Hypothermia can be fatal.
Take the following steps if you think someone has hypothermia:
Follow these precautions:
Call 911 or the local emergency number anytime you suspect someone has hypothermia. Give first aid while waiting for emergency help.
Before you spend time outside in the cold, DO NOT drink alcohol or smoke. Drink plenty of fluids and get enough food and rest.
Wear proper clothing in cold temperatures to protect your body. These include:
Prendergast HM, Erickson TB. Procedures pertaining to hypothermia and hyperthermia. In: Roberts JR, Custalow CB, Thomsen TW, eds. Roberts and Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine and Acute Care. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 65.
Zafren K, Danzl DF. Frostbite and nonfreezing cold injuries. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 131.
Zafren K, Danzl DF. Accidental hypothermia. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 132.
Sawka MN, O'Connor FG. Disorders due to heat and cold. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 101.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 11/13/2021
Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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