Stay Warm in the Polar Vortex– and Avoid Hypothermia

As the polar vortex causes temperatures to drop dramatically, make sure to stay warm and keep hypothermia at bay. Hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature) affects the brain, disrupting the ability to think clearly or move well. Severely low body temperature can even lead to heart failure and death.

Hypothermia often looks different from one person to another. If five people don’t stay warm, each can experience it five different ways. Common symptoms may include:

  • Confusion
  • Sleepiness
  • Fumbling hands
  • Shivering and exhaustion
  • Slow, slurred speech or shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse and/or low blood pressure
  • Drowsiness
  • A change in behavior or appearance during cold weather
  • Stiff arms and legs
  • Poor control over body movements or slow reactions
  • In infants: bright red, cold skin and/or very low energy

The Most Vulnerable

Those most at risk for hypothermia are:

  • Elderly people, who often have illnesses or take medicine that interferes with the ability to regulate their temperature.
  • Elderly people with inadequate food, clothing or heat.
  • Infants and/or toddlers sleeping in cold bedrooms.
  • Anyone who is outdoors for long periods of time, such as the homeless, hikers and hunters

Half of the elderly who develop hypothermia die before, or soon after, being found. But even the young and strong risk hypothermia during extended exposure to the cold.

Help Someone Get Warm–and Stay Warm

If you suspect someone has hypothermia, check his body temperature with a thermometer. A temperature under 95 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) is a medical emergency and can be fatal if not promptly treated, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Hypothermia victims need immediate medical attention. While awaiting Emergency Medical Services, some ways to help include:

  • Most importantly, get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
  • Once inside, remove wet clothing (if any) right away.
  • Warm the center of the body first (the chest, neck, head and groin), preferable with an electric blanket. Or use skin-to-skin contact, using your own body heat to give warmth to the victim.
  • Handle and move the victim gently.
  • Warm drinks like tea, coffee or hot cocoa can help.
    • Never give someone with hypothermia alcohol.
    • Never try to give a drink to an unconscious person.
  • Keep the person dry and wrapped in warm blankets until medical help arrives.

Polar Vortex Forecast

The North Shore LIJ Health System’s geographic region will experience bitterly cold temperatures tonight through Wednesday. Overnight temperatures will drop to between 5 and 8 degrees, with wind chills of negative 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold temperatures will continue on Tuesday with a high of 10 degrees and wind chills nearnegative 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Overnight temperatures on Tuesday will be a low of 5 degrees with wind chills of negative 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures will remain frigid before starting to moderate on Thursday.

Topics: News

Focus onHealth TV

Watch Focus onHealth, Northwell Health's TV show. It's the healthy way to stay informed!