Hypothermia vs. Hyperthermia

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hypothermia vs. Hyperthermia - What to look for

Hyperthermia, or Heat Exhaustion/Stroke, occurs when the body's core temperature rises above 100F. In the outdoor environment, most of our patients experience elevated core temperatures when they are exposed to extreme heat. This often occurs in the summer months as temperatures in Southern Nevada rise well above 110F. In many cases, hikers are active in arid environments where they are exposed to direct sunlight and little shade. Minimal water intake and excessive perspiration are also contributing factors.

Signs and Symptoms of Hyperthermia
Red, hot, dry skin are all indicative signs of hyperthermia. If it's hot out and your body has stopped sweating, this is a major sign of dehydration, which may lead to heat stroke. This dehydration can produce nausea, vomiting, headaches, low blood pressure, dizziness, and even fainting. In extreme cases, the person may become confused and even hostile. Respiration and heart rate will increase as the body attempts to distribute as much oxygen as possible.

If the body's core temperature drops below 95F, hypothermia sets in. In most cases, our patients become hypothermic when they do not carry appropriate clothing with them and are exposed to cold temperatures for a long duration of time. As the body's temperature decreases, the person is unable to replenish heat that is being lost.

Signs and Symptoms of Hypothermia
Shivering and an increased heart rate are initial signs, which are both the body's attempt to rise the core body temperature. As the core temperature continues to drop, shivering will become more violent and movement will become slow and labored. In extreme cases, patients will have problems speaking and will have great difficulty in moving about, will be disoriented, and even combative. If skin is exposed, it will become blue and puffy.

What's more Common?
In Southern Nevada, we treat patients with both hyperthermia and hypothermia.  However, hypothermia is more prevalent.  Although temperatures in this region tend to fall in the warm to hot range, the desert becomes very cold at night, especially when wind and minimal shelter are present.  In higher elevations, temperatures often dip below freezing.  Snow, rain, and wind are also contributing factors.  In any case, it's important to carry appropriate clothing and fluids while exposing yourself to the elements.  It's equally as important to know and recognize the signs and symptoms.

Snow in May?
One year ago, LVMPDSAR rescued two hikers who had lost their trail at Mt. Charleston as unexpected weather conditions caused freezing temperatures and snow!  Read all about it here and stay prepared!