Hypothermia

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

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What are the symptoms of hypothermia in infants and children?

Newborns, infants, and young children are more likely to develop hypothermia because they have a larger surface area compared to body weight so they can lose body heat faster than older children and adults. WHO suggests slightly different temperature values for hypothermia levels in infants:
  • Cold stress or mild hypothermia: 36.0 C to 36.4 C (96.8 F - 97.5 F)
  • Moderate hypothermia: 32.0 C to 35.9 C (89.6 F to 96.6 F)
  • Severe hypothermia: <32 C (89.6 F)

There may be some variation in these temperature values by some researchers, but these temperature levels can serve as guidelines in assessing hypothermia levels in infants and young children.

Since infants and young children either cannot or will not communicate with adults about hypothermia, parents, caregivers, and medical personnel rely on other clues or symptoms of hypothermia, which include:

  • An accurate axillary (armpit) or rectal temperature below 36.4 C (97.5 F)
  • A weak cry
  • Low energy level
  • Lethargic
  • Reddish and cold skin
  • Cool feeling of extremities and abdomen
  • Poor feeding
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Hypoxia (low levels of blood oxygen) or apneic (absense of breathing) episodes
  • Heart arrhythmias

Some infants and children may experience chronic hypothermia and show symptoms of:

Children and teens that can communicate have symptoms like those described for adults, but may occasionally have a combination of symptoms of those of a child or adult.

Can a person experience hypothermia indoors?

Yes, a person can become hypothermic indoors; however, the symptoms may develop slowly or not seem as obvious to family, friends, or even health care individuals unless a core body temperature is measured.

Individuals at risk for hypothermia indoors are the elderly or young living in an unheated homes in cold temperatures, or living in an over-air-conditioned home.

When should I call my doctor for hypothermia?

Any person that is at risk for hypothermia (see previous section on risk factors) and has had exposure to cold weather or cold water immersion, and exhibits any symptoms of hypothermia should be seen in the emergency department. Individuals exhibiting intense shivering, numbness, clumsiness, confusion and/or amnesia after exposure to cold should be seen immediately.

How is hypothermia diagnosed?

For many people, hypothermia is diagnosed by the patient's history and physical exam; especially pertinent is the patient's core temperature. As previously stated any core temperature below 95 F or 35 C for an adult is considered to be hypothermic (for an infant, consider 36.4 C or 97.5 F) .

Most individuals with hypothermia are considered to have a medical emergency so that diagnosis and treatment begins simultaneously. Some patients can develop bradycardia and show electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG) abnormalities.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/7/2016
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