What Makes Body Temperature Drop?

Hypothermia is the condition where the body loses more heat than it produces for an extended period of time. In humans, the normal body temperature is 98.6o F (37oC) or thereabouts. In case temperature drops below 95o F (35oC), hypothermia sets in. As a result, the nervous system, the heart, other organs and body systems are unable to work normally. If hypothermia is not treated, it can lead to total failure of body organs and systems and eventually cause death. But what causes body temperature to drop?

What Causes Body Temp to Drop?

The main cause of a sustained drop in body temperature is exposure to cold conditions such as cold water or cold weather. This leads to hypothermia if your body is not protected by adequate clothing or positive manipulation of the conditions.

The following conditions can lead to hypothermia:

  • Spending too much time in the cold
  • Residing in a very cold house without heating
  • Accidentally falling into water
  • Wearing light clothes when you are in cold weather conditions
  • Being in wet clothes and unable to remove them or go to a dry, warm place

Risk Factors

  • Exhaustion

You are more likely to be affected by cold if you are exhausted.

  • Older Age

Among the issues that come with old age is the inability of the body to properly regulate its temperature or sense a drop in temperature. Some older people cannot tell when they are cold or are unable to get out of their cold location.

  • Very Young Age

A young child’s body has a higher surface area to volume ratio compared to an adult’s such that it loses heat a lot faster than an adult. Additionally, children are likely to ignore cold conditions especially during fun activities. They may also lack judgment about the need to dress in warm clothes when out in the cold.

  • Mental Problems

People suffering from mental illness, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease may not be aware of their surrounding conditions. As a result, they may not know how they should dress in the cold, or of even the need to get out of the cold conditions. They are also likely to get lost and may end up in dangerously cold or wet locations.

  • Alcohol and Drug Use

While alcohol can give a feeling of warmth, it makes blood vessels to relax so that more heat is lost from the body through the skin. Besides, taking alcohol or some recreational drugs interferes with your mental judgment so that you are not aware of the need to put on warm cloths when you are in a cold location. Passing out in a very cold place can lead to hypothermia.

  • Certain Medical Conditions

While exposure to extreme cold is what causes body temp to drop, certain health conditions like hypothyroidism, diabetes, stroke, poor nutrition, trauma, Parkinson’s disease, spine injuries and anorexia nervosa can diminish the body’s capacity to regulate temperature which may lead to hypothermia.

  • Medications

Some medications including sedatives, narcotic painkillers, antipsychotics and antidepressants can interfere with the body's capacity for temperature regulation.

How to Deal with the Low Body Temp

If you suspect hypothermia in you or another person, take it as a medical emergency and seek for help immediately.

Treatment for hypothermia is aimed at raising the body temperature to normal. As you wait for medical care, you can take some steps to improve the condition:

Handle the Person with Care

Move the patient to a warm place and do not attempt massage with the hope of restoring blood flow. Note that excessive or forceful movement can pose the risk of cardiac arrest.

Remove Wet Clothes

You may have to cut the clothes up to minimize movement while removing them. Cover the patient with a warm blanket, leaving only the mouth and nostrils. You may need to use your body heat to keep the patient warm if a blanket is not available. If conscious, try to give the patient a warm drink such as soup.

Apply Warm Compresses

Because cold conditions are what causes body temp to drop, applying warm, dry compresses such as a warm water bottle or warmed towel to the neck or chest can help increase the patient’s temperature. Do not apply the warm compresses to arms or legs and avoid heat lamp or heating pad. Applying warm compresses to legs or arms may force cold blood towards the heart, brain and lungs which may be fatal.

Monitor the Patient’s Breathing

In case the patient is unconscious or the breathing is too weak, you may need to do CPR if you know how to do it.

Medical Treatment

Serious hypothermia requires medical treatment using warm fluids, usually saline which is injected intravenously. The patient’s blood may also be rewarmed in a procedure that involves drawing out blood, warming it up before returning it into the body.

The patient’s airways may also be rewarmed using a face mask and a nasal tube. In addition, the stomach may be warmed using a stomach pump or cavity lavage. In this procedure, warm saline water is pumped into the stomach.

What Are the Prevention Measures?

Clothing

Because cold conditions are generally what causes body temp to drop, proper clothing is the most basic preventive measure against hypothermia. When heading into cold weather conditions, put on several layers of warm clothes even if you don’t feel so cold. Put on gloves, scarves and hats and remember that shedding of some of the layers of clothes is easier than having to face extreme cold.

Stay Dry

It is also important to stay dry. Do not swim for extended periods and carry water-repelling clothes when going into rainy or snowy conditions. In case of a boat accident that leaves you stuck in water, stay as dry as you can, in the circumstances. Unless you are immersed and you can’t avoid it, do not swim until you see help nearby.

Maintaining normal temperature helps to prevent hypothermia. In case your body temperature drops below 95°F, seek medical care immediately irrespective of whether or not you have symptoms of hypothermia.

 
 
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