Temperature extremes can be scary! Our bodies don’t handle them well on their own. Hypothermia and heat stroke are both scary and life-threatening conditions.
Where I live, we get cold winters (occasionally below zero) and hot summers (over 100). There are places with more serious extremes, with many areas of the country now seeing extremes of 100 degree days more frequently.
It is more important than ever to know how to protect your family if hypothermia or heat stroke hit.
What is hypothermia?
Hypothermia is when long-term exposure to extremely cold temperatures results in your body losing too much heat. Long exposure to the cold gradually deplete your body’s reserves of energy, which results in a decrease in body temperature.
Investing in proper cold weather gear can be helpful to prevent this from happening.
What is heat stroke?
A condition known as heatstroke is brought on by your body overheating, typically as a result of extended exposure to or physical activity in hot environments.
When your body temperature reaches 104 F (40 C) or greater, you could experience heatstroke, the most severe type of heat injury.
Differences between heat stroke and heat exhaustion
Understanding the differences between heat stroke and heat exhaustion will help you determine the severity of the illness.
|Heat Exhaustion Symptoms
|Heat Stroke Symptoms
|High fever (104°F or higher)
|Feeling weak or confused
|Dizziness / Light-headedness
|Flushed red appearance to skin
|Lack of sweating
|Muscle weakness or cramps
|Dark colored urine (sign of dehydration)
|Nausea or vomiting
|Fast heartbeat or breathing
|Feeling of confusion
Heat Exhaustion Symptoms:
If you feel you (or a loved one) is suffering from Heat Exhaustion, don’t freak out, but don’t ignore it either. You don’t want it to progress to Heat Stroke.
First, get out of the heat. Go inside where there is air conditioning if you can. If you can’t get into an air conditioned building, you might try your car.
If you can’t get inside, get in the shade.
Next, drink plenty of water. Do NOT drink alcohol or caffeinated drinks (such as soda). These can make heat exhaustion worse.
If you still don’t feel better, take off any unnecessary clothing. Get your skin wet and fan yourself. Take a cool bath or shower.
Rest until you feel better.
Heat Stroke Symptoms
As mentioned before, if heat exhaustion progresses to heat stroke, it can be life threatening. It also starts progressing very quickly. Time is of the essence with heat stroke. Those over 50 are at a greater risk for heat stroke so watch them carefully in the heat.
The “official” definition of heat stroke is an internal body temperature over 104° F. Other symptoms you will see are:
If you are on any of the following medicines, your risk of heat stroke may be increased, so be extra careful. Talk to your doctor to find out for sure!
- Some blood pressure and heart medicines
- Diet pills
- Some antidepressants
- Seizure medicines
Treating Heat Stroke:
Get the person into air conditioning if possible or out of the sun and into the shade.
Remove any unnecessary clothing
Turn the person on the side as this exposes the most possible skin to the air.
Lightly spray the person with cool water, or apply cold wet cloths and then fan them.
Apply ice packs or cold clothes directly to the armpits, neck, and groin. Because these areas are rich with blood vessels close to the skin, cooling them may reduce body temperature.
Give cool water if person is alert and able to drink
Do not give the person anything to drink if the person is not alert or is vomiting.
Do not immerse in an ice bath as this can be hard on the heart
Do not give medicine such as aspirin or acetaminophen to try and reduce body temperature. These medicines may cause problems because of the body’s response to heatstroke
Preventing Heat Stroke:
Stay indoors when it is extremely hot! If you can’t stay indoors for any reason, here are a few other tips:
- Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
- Wear a hat or sit under an umbrella
- Use sunscreen
- Drink plenty of water before, during and after going outside. Drink water every 15-20 minutes. Your goal is clear, pale urine!
- Avoid caffeinated beverages or alcohol.
- If you must work while outside, try to do it in the mornings or late evenings.
- Take lots of breaks while working outside.
Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. You are suffering from hypothermia if your body temperature falls below 95° F. Hypothermia can be life-threatening unless it is quickly reversed.
Hypothermia can be caused by falling in a cold body of water or being exposed to very cold outdoor temperatures. These are more obvious cases and the hypothermia would likely occur relatively quickly.
However, I also found out, it can occur indoors as well if you are exposed to temperatures below 50° F for a long period of time. So, in the case of a power outage in the winter, you will need to be extra careful even indoors. You body temperature will slowly fall. Make sure you don’t fall victim to hypothermia.
Symptoms of hypothermia:
- Shivering, (may stop as temp drops)
- Slurred speech or mumbling
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Weak pulse
- Clumsiness or lack of coordination
- Drowsiness or very low energy
- Confusion or memory loss
- Loss of consciousness
- Bright red, cold skin (in infants)
First, call 911 if possible.
Next, move the person out of the cold. Going indoors would be best. If going indoors isn’t possible, get the person out of the wind and into the sun (if available).
Insulate the person from the ground by placing something between them and the ground.
Use a blanket or tarp or shirt (anything) to protect the head and neck area especially well from any wind.
Remove all wet clothing and replace it with warm dry coats or blankets.
Administer CPR if necessary
If available, apply warm, dry compresses to the center of the body, neck, chest and groin. Wrap the center of the body especially well.
If the person is alert enough, offer warm, sweet beverages.
DO NOT try to heat their entire body all at once (like with a warm bath or heat lamp). This could cause a heart arrhythmia.
DO NOT try to warm extremities / limbs as this can stress the heart and lungs
DO NOT offer cigarettes or alcohol. Alcohol hinders the rewarming process, and tobacco products interfere with circulation that is needed for rewarming.
A while back, I made a printable first aid quick guide for myself and babysitters that has been helpful. However, I’ve been wanting something a bit more portable: something smaller.
Now I’m making printable 3×5 cards! I will print them, laminate them and then attach them to a key ring. I will keep one hanging in the pantry, one in each vehicle’s glove compartment, and one in our 72 hour kits / go-bags.
You are welcome to print them for your own use as well! Simply click HERE or on the image below to download them:
You can find additional printables here:
I am not a doctor, this article was written from my own research and education. Please read the information I have linked to below for more expert sources and take a first aid / CPR course for complete training.
Becky is a wildlife enthusiast and pet and livestock care expert with a diploma in canine nutrition. With over a decade of experience in animal welfare, Becky lends her expertise to Simple Family Preparedness through insightful info about pets, livestock, bee keeping, and the practicalities of homesteading.