Hypothermia is a dangerously low body temperature. The average normal body temperature is around 98.6°F (37°C). If your child’s body temperature drops just a few degrees lower than this, he will begin to shiver and blood vessels in his hands, feet, arms, and legs start to narrow. This helps your child’s body stay warm and helps keep your child’s major organs supplied with blood. If your child’s body temperature drops even more, his body functions start to slow down. Your child may not be able to shiver at this point. If your child’s temperature drops too low and stays low for more than a few hours, his skin, blood vessels, and organs may suffer damage, and there is a risk of death.
Your child’s temperature can drop gradually as his body is exposed to cold temperatures for a long time. This could happen if:
Your child’s temperature can drop very quickly if he falls into freezing or cold water.
Hypothermia is more likely to happen if something such as an injury keeps your child from moving or being alert. Babies and small children are more likely to have hypothermia. The very young use up energy reserves quickly, so it is harder for them to keep a normal body temperature in cool or cold surroundings. Other factors that increase the risk of hypothermia are poor diet, dehydration, alcohol or drug abuse, low body weight, or chronic medical problems that affect your child’s blood vessels or heart, nervous system, or thyroid gland. Homeless people are at high risk of hypothermia, as are those who are unable to keep their home warm due to no insulation, poor heating system, or poverty.
Hypothermia usually comes on slowly. Symptoms may include:
The diagnosis is based on where your child has been and your child’s symptoms. The healthcare provider will check for shivering, confusion, or other symptoms of hypothermia. Your child’s body temperature is checked to see if it is less than 95°F (35°C).
Hypothermia is a medical emergency and needs to be treated right away. Get emergency help right away or call 911.
A child who has severe hypothermia needs to be treated in a hospital as soon as possible. Get emergency help right away or call 911.
If your child appears to have hypothermia, here's what you can do while you wait for medical help:
The best way to prevent hypothermia is to be prepared and dress your child properly. Have your child wear several layers of clothes rather than a single, thick layer. The best layers are those that provide good insulation and keep moisture away from the skin. Materials that do this include polypropylene, polyesters, and wool. Wear an outer garment that is waterproof but will also "breathe." Have your child wear a hat and mittens and keep his neck covered to help retain body heat.
Hypothermia can also happen indoors, especially if you have trouble keeping your home warm: