Eye on body temperature


Winter means many things — hot drinks, cosy blankets, warm fires, and frosty breaths. And winter does not mean just these. Winter also means cold, and with cold comes the chances for cold related deaths, if one is not concerned about one’s health in these cold months. So, one needs to pay attention on one’s exposure to the cold as people are likely to suffer from hypothermia.

The normal body temperature of a human being is 36.5 to 37.5 degree Celsius (98.4 degree Fahrenheit). However, when the body temperature starts dropping below 35 degree Celsius or 95 degree Fahrenheit, then this condition is termed as hypothermia — hypo meaning — less or inadequate, thermal meaning — temperature. “It usually occurs when people are exposed to the cold,” informs Dr Subash Pant, MD, MBBS, Consultant Physician, Kathmandu Medical College and Teaching Hospital, Sinamangal.

Shivering: Common symptom

Rashmi (name changed) aged 21 of Kadaghari, felt a sudden decline in her body temperature one cold morning while attending her college lectures recently. She felt cold while touched, and was shivering too. "Such a shivering is a common symptom in patients of hypothermia. When the body temperature is within the range of 32 to 35 degree Celsius, the patient is awake and shivering. However, there is an increase in the heart rate and blood pressure in patients," informs Dr Pant.

If the body temperature still drops and reaches below 32 degree Celsius, the patient is conscious though the alertness is quite low by now. "If the temperature drops below 28 degrees, then the patient becomes unconscious. The toes and fingers turn blue. Lips become white, and if the temperature drops below 20 degree Celsius, the patient’s condition is likely to be fatal," explains Dr Pant.

Exposure to cold

When our body loses heat faster than its production, then one suffers from hypothermia. Exposure to cold is the most common cause of hypothermia. One suffers from hypothermia when one is suddenly exposed to cold weather or cold air. Whenever one is not dressed properly as per the weather or wears wet clothes, one is prone to hypothermia.

Inadequate heating is another condition for one to suffer from hypothermia. Cold-water submersion is also one of the causes of hypothermia.

"Let's drink to warm ourselves up!" is what we often get to hear during the cold weather. However, it’s a very wrong idea to beat cold. People become unable to feel the temperature because of the intoxication of alcohol, and as a result they suffer from hypothermia. "As one consumes alcohol, there is blood flow in the skin making one feel warm." Death due to alcohol consumption and an exposure to cold is quite common in the country.

Besides that there are many people who are homeless. Street children and people living on the streets too are prone to suffer from heat loss as they are exposed to the cold. People living in the Tarai belts in the country are more prone as cold waves are frequent in the areas. Poverty, lack of warm clothes, and lack of well-constructed houses among others are some of the reasons for cold related deaths, as per the doctor.

Children and the elderly are prone to suffer as children have more skin mass than body mass, and there is more heat loss in them, as per the doctor. Thermo-regulation mechanism is deteriorated in the elderly as per their age. "Immunity too is low in them," adds the doctor.

Then people with immunocompromised status such as those living with HIV, cancer patients, and people suffering from hypothyroidism are also vulnerable to heat loss from their bodies.

For immediate help for hypothermia patients, it is better to remove his/her wet clothes, and wrap him/her in blankets to warm him/her. If the patient is in a condition to eat or drink, then give them hot soup to drink. However, beware of ventilating the room to avoid fire related deaths if you are igniting a fire to warm the room.

A COLD way to prevent hypothermia

So as to help one maintain one’s body temperature, Dr Pant advises the COLD acronym —

Cover: Wear a hat or other protective covering to prevent loss of body heat. Cover your head, face, neck and fingers.

Overexertion: Avoid activities that cause sweating. Do not jerk patients.

Layers: Wear loose fitting clothes in layers. Wool and silk hold body heat better than cotton. Opt for woollen and silk materials. Wet clothing causes more heat loss. Avoid them.

Dry:  Stay as dry as possible. Change your wet clothes early. Be careful about keeping your hands and feet dry.