Scientists Say: Hypothermia

This body temperature is cold, dangerously cold

shivering kids

Brr! Our bodies need to stay warm to preserve their functions. If a person’s body temperature drops too much, they can suffer from hypothermia.


Hypothermia (noun, “HY-po-THER-me-ah”)

This is a condition in which someone’s body temperature gets dangerously low. People need to keep their bodies at a temperature of around 37° Celsius (98.6° Fahrenheit) for cells to carry out their normal routines. But humans naturally lose heat through their skin to the cooler air around them. Warm clothing or heat can help reduce this loss. But if a person loses heat faster than their body can produce it, their temperature can drop. If it drops below 35 °C (95 °F), they have hypothermia.

There are three categories of hypothermia — mild, moderate and severe. Mild hypothermia makes people shiver. They may become dizzy, nauseated and tired. As a person gets still colder and suffers moderate hypothermia, their breathing can get slow and shallow. Their pulse may get weak. They might slur their speech or become clumsy. As someone gets even colder and suffers severe hypothermia, they may get confused and even try to take off the clothes keeping them warm. Eventually, they can die.

What’s the solution to cold? Warmth, of course! Doctors treat hypothermia by warming the body up slowly with blankets, warm fluids and warm air. But when confronted with the cold, it’s better to stay warm and safe than be sorry.

In a sentence

Hypothermia can be deadly, but a skier survived the condition with the world’s lowest recorded temperature in a living person — 14 °C (57 °F)!

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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