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How to know if you have hypothermia — experts reveal key warning signs

Deaths from exposure to extreme cold have been reported across the US this week. Here are the warning signs you might have hypothermia — and the ways to prevent it from becoming a disaster.
Deaths from exposure to extreme cold have been reported across the US this week. Here are the warning signs you might have hypothermia -- and the ways to prevent it from becoming a disaster.

With New York City becoming colder than Antarctica this week and much of the country experiencing temperatures below freezing, hypothermia is top of mind.

Deaths from exposure to extreme cold have been reported this week from Seattle to Milwaukee and Mississippi.

Here are the warning signs you might have hypothermia — and the ways to prevent it.

What is hypothermia?

Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures.

The medical condition can also occur at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or being submerged in water.

Symptoms typically begin when a person’s body temperature hits 95 degrees Fahrenheit — a healthy person’s body temperature is usually around 98.6 degrees.

Severe hypothermia occurs when body temperatures drop to 82 degrees or lower.

“How fast you get cold depends on what temperature it is, but it can also happen pretty quickly,” Dr. Emily MacNeill, an emergency medicine physician at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina, told CNN this week.

What are the warning signs of hypothermia?

As the body struggles to warm itself, brain function slows — hindering the ability to think clearly or move with ease.

Hypothermia can be especially dangerous because you may not know it’s happening and won’t feel the need to stop it.

Shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness are potential signs of hypothermia.

In more severe cases, bluish skin, dilated pupils, slowed pulse and breathing, low blood pressure and loss of consciousness are major red flags.

Children suffering from the medical condition will often develop bright, red skin and exhibit very low energy.

What to do if you get hypothermia?

Those who record a temperature below 95 degrees should seek medical attention immediately.

But if you’re unable to get professional help, try to get inside a warm room or find shelter quickly.

Focus on warming the center of the body by targeting the chest, neck, head and groin.

Make sure to remove any wet clothing and keep yourself dry. Warm drinks can help raise body temperatures — but do not drink alcohol when fighting off hypothermia.

In the most severe cases, a person’s heart can stop beating, requiring CPR.

“You can certainly die from hypothermia because we can’t get you rewarmed,” MacNeill said. “Your heart rate gets really slow or your heart stops because it’s just too cold to function.”