With the winter months approaching in Australia, there is an increased risk of hypothermia in certain situations where patients aren’t prepared for the cold weather.
What is Hypothermia?
Most paramedics would define Hypothermia as the condition of having a dangerously low core body temperature. Hypothermia occurs as your body temperature falls below 35C. The patient’s heart and respiratory system can’t work normally, and if left untreated, eventually collapse. If the patient remains exposed to the cold (weather or water), there may be a complete failure of the heart, resulting in death.
Here are some important considerations all paramedics follow when treating someone with hypothermia.
Paramedics Advice #1: Safe and Stabilised
Immediately upon arriving at the scene where a patient is suffering from hypothermia, paramedics will assess the danger of the situation. Their first priority is to make sure the patient is not in any further danger and can be placed in a safe and warm environment. Usually, this can be as simple as getting your patient into the back of the Ambulance, with the heating turned on. Always treat suspected hypothermic patients extra gently, as they are at risk of irregular heartbeats.
Paramedics Advice #2: Prevent Further Heat Loss
Once the patient is stabilised, paramedics will attempt to prevent further heat loss in the patient. This can be done by performing the following actions:
- Minimise movement, especially inadvertent jerk movements which can trigger dangerous irregular heartbeats. In search and rescue operations, a stretcher is used to stabilise the patient.
- Remove wet clothing and replace with dry clothing or a blanket/sleeping bag
- Give the patient a space blanket (also known as a foil blanket) if available, which helps the body to start to regulate its own temperature.
Paramedics Advice #3: Attempt Rewarming
In order to bring the patient’s core body temperature back to safer levels, there are a number of methods paramedics usually employ. They include the following:
- Apply external warm dry compresses or heat packs. These include hot water bottles and chemical packs placed in the axillae, on the groin, and on the abdomen. All the while the paramedic makes sure to avoid causing body surface burns due to excessive use of the heat packs.
- When heat packs are not accessible a paramedic’s tip is to perform skin-to-skin contact warming with the patients. This transfer of heat from the rescuer to the patient is critical in dire situations.
- If available, provide the patient with warm beverages that are non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated.
Paramedics Advice #4: Administer further medical treatment, if your scope of practice allows.
In most cases, your patient can be actively re-warmed as you transport them to hospital. In severe hypothermic cases, you may be required to use a mobile blood warmer such as a MEQU.
Now that you have the crucial steps involved in treat people with hypothermia – as recommended by paramedics – you can keep someone alive if you find yourself in the position to help.
Could you become a paramedic and help a patient who is suffering from Hypothermia?
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