Learn the signs of low body temperature as winter approaches

A Drop in Core Temperature of the Human Body Can Be Lethal


This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read it here.

Hypothermia means low body temperature. It occurs when we are unable to keep our core body temperature at or above 95 degrees Fahrenheit. If the body remains below 95°F for too long it can kill us. Most of the deaths caused by hypothermia are the result of irregular heartbeats that lead to heart failure.

One reason so many people die of hypothermia in their own homes each year is that it can happen very gradually without their even knowing they were getting too cold. That’s because the brain is the first organ affected as the temperature of the human body drops. In a very short time, we cannot think clearly, become confused and start to feel sleepy. Once that happens, we may not realize we are too cold, so don’t seek help or do anything to keep ourselves warm. Then, we may fall asleep.

Hypothermia Among the Elderly

The elderly are especially at risk since changes in the body can make it harder for them to tell they are getting cold, especially when conditions are not that severe. That is one reason why those being cared for in skilled nursing facilities need to have their body temperature measured regularly to be sure they are not too cold.

Elderly people living on their own may put themselves at risk by setting their thermostat lower to save on the heating bill. Unless someone stops by and tells them how chilly it is in their home, they may not realize it. They may also be unable to put on all the layers of clothing they need to stay warm due to arthritis and other illnesses that make it difficult to move their arms and legs.

Certain illnesses that accompany aging can also make it harder to stay warm, such as hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone), diabetes and circulatory problems. Extra precautions may be needed by people with those conditions to dress appropriately and be prepared for unexpected changes in the weather. Medications used to treat anxiety, depression and nausea can increase the risk of accidental hypothermia along with some over-the-counter cold remedies, so should be checked with the pharmacist.

Signs of Low Body Temperature

Even if someone is shivering it does not mean they are effectively keeping themself warm. Conversely, if someone is not shivering it does not mean they are not cold. According the National Institute on Aging, in either case they could be experiencing hypothermia, so check for the “umbles”:

  • stumbles = poor control over body movements or stiffness in arms and legs
  • mumbles = slowed or slurred speech
  • fumbles = slow reactions
  • grumbles = shallow breathing, confusion

If someone has these symptoms and you suspect they may be suffering from hypothermia, take their temperature. If it is not above 96° F, call for emergency services. While waiting for help to arrive try to keep the person warm by wrapping them in coats, sweaters or dry blankets and towels – whatever is available – including your own body. If they are lying down, just lie against them and gently press your body next to theirs.

Once at the hospital a special thermometer will be used to get an accurate reading of the person’s temperature since most household thermometers cannot read very low temperatures. Treatment with warmed intravenous fluids or more aggressive rewarming with fluids infused directly into the stomach or bladder may be needed.

How are you planning to keep warm this winter?

Use these checklists to get essential emergency items ready for bad weather

Winter Weather Emergency Essentials

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read my original blog here.



Many parts of the country have never had to worry about heavy snow, slippery ice, freezing rain and gale force winds during the winter months. That means you may not have the weather emergency essentials on hand that go with them. Now, thanks to a weird glitch in the global warming trend, more areas are getting to experience winter at its worst.

Just to be safe, make sure you have the items on each emergency list below before the first storm hits.

Health Risks During Cold Weather

The two biggest threats are frostbite and hypothermia. Both can happen very quickly so being aware of their warning signs is important.

Frostbite occurs when body tissue freezes due to exposure to cold temperatures. It is most often seen on the extremities, such as fingers, toes, nose, and ears. The skin will appear white or pale and lose feeling.

Hyperthermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees F and can happen whether indoors and outside. The elderly are particularly vulnerable because they produce less body heat. Early signs include violent shivering, mental confusion, and labored movements.

Emergency Essentials for Any Type of Storm

  • Flashlights and batteries
  • Matches or lighter and poured wax candles in containers or pillar candles with a globe, but not tapers, votives or tea light candles
  • Medications and medical supplies for 7 days in case you must evacuate
  • Drinking water for 3 days, at least 1 gallon per person
  • Dried or canned food that can be eaten without cooking and manual can opener
  • Infant food and supplies
  • Pet food and supplies
  • Fully charged cell phone and available chargers for home and auto
  • Fully charged tablet or lap-top computer and available chargers
  • Battery-powered radio in case you lose Internet access
  • Cash in case credit and ATM machines lose power
  • Full tank of gas in car
  • Emergency Telephone List with numbers for doctors, pharmacist, family, neighbors and other emergency contacts in case cell phone dies

Emergency List for the Home

  • Check or install smoke alarms
  • Check or install fire extinguisher, preferably an ABC multipurpose type suitable for chemical and wood fires, and know how to use it
  • Check or install carbon monoxide detectors
  • Inspect and clean chimneys and fireplace flues
  • Proper extension cords for electric space heaters and gas generators
  • Gasoline for generators

Emergency Items for the Car

  • Check and fill antifreeze and windshield wiper fluids
  • Booster cables and know how to use them
  • Ice scraper for the windshield
  • Shovel to dig out car if stuck and broom to remove snow from vehicle
  • Rock salt, sand or kitty litter for traction if wheels are spinning
  • Reflective triangles or bright cloth (bandana) to tie on antennae to alert passing cars you’re in need of help
  • Strong rope in case you need to be pulled up an embankment
  • Flashlight and batteries (can also download flashlight app on smart phone)
  • Extra set of warm clothes if you get cold and wet trying to dig yourself out
  • Blankets or sleeping bag if you’re stuck on the road waiting for a tow
  • Container of water or a container to hold snow so it can melt and be used for drinking
  • Nonperishable food or snacks, such a trail mix and energy bars

Outdoor Clothing Essentials

  • Layers of light-weight, loosely fitting clothes with an outer layer that is water resistant
  • Hat that completely covers your ears
  • Scarf that covers neck and can be pulled over mouth and nose, if needed, to protect lungs from cold air
  • Mittens for best protection of fingers, but wear gloves under mittens if hands must be pulled out to use fingers
  • Insulated, water-proof socks
  • Boots with non-skid soles

Is there anything on your emergency list that I forgot?