If you are exposed to prolonged cold conditions, whether outdoors or in an unheated house, you may get hypothermia. You are at greater risk if you are elderly, very young, underweight, or in poor health.
What is hypothermia?
Hypothermia occurs when the body's temperature drops from the usual healthy 37 °C to below 35 °C. A drop in body temperature to 32 °C or less can be fatal.
What causes hypothermia?
You may get hypothermia if you spend time in air below 10 °C, or in water below 20 °C. Some medical conditions can also make people susceptible to hypothermia.
People with mild hypothermia feel cold. They may also:
- be shivering uncontrollably
- have cool, pale skin
- be clumsy and walk unsteadily
- be confused and drowsy.
People with severe hypothermia might have stopped shivering. They might:
- breathe slowly
- have a slow heart rate
- have dilated pupils
- be in a coma.
They might even look like they are dead.
If you suspect someone has severe hypothermia, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance immediately.
If you suspect someone has hypothermia:
- move them to somewhere warm
- take off any wet clothes
- warm their head, neck, chest and groin with blankets or wrapped hot water bottles, or get someone warm to cuddle them
- keep them still
- give them warm drinks, but not alcohol.
If they look like they're dead, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and give CPR.
Don't make them exert themselves and don't rub them vigorously.
If you live or work outdoors in a cold climate, or are planning a camping or hiking trip in the cold, you can decrease the risk of hypothermia by:
- listening to the weather forecast
- limiting the amount of time you spend outdoors in the cold
- planning 'warm-up' breaks if you work outside
- dressing warmly, including wearing a wind resistant jacket, gloves and a hat
- avoiding alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes, which can make you more sensitive to cold
- asking your doctor if your medication can make you susceptible to cold
- making sure your home is adequately heated.
Make sure you cover your children's heads when they are out in the cold - kids can lose body heat more quickly than adults.
Last reviewed: September 2015