Throw some alcohol into the mix and this can be a deadly combination. Hypothermia is a dangerous drop in body temperature and can occur in minutes. Normal body temperature averages around 98 degrees F. But hypothermia starts setting in at 95 degrees with shivering, increase respiratory and heart rate, and even confusion. We forget that glucose stores get used up quickly so hypoglycemia can ensue as well, making matters worse, especially in someone who is intoxicated. Frostbite can occur as blood flow decreases to the tips of the ears, fingers, nose and toes. As hypothermia progresses, the shivering and muscle contractions strengthen, skin and lips become pale, and confusion worsens. This can lead to severe hypothermia, eventually causing heart failure and/or respiratory failure, leading to a coma and if not reversed, death.
So how can you tell if your buddy who’s partying with you outside is drunk or hypothermic? Sometimes you can’t. They’ll be slurring their speech, stammering around, uncoordinated, and unfortunately written off as “drunk” when it could be a medical emergency.
So if you suspect hypothermia, call for medical assistance. Anyone you think is eliciting signs of hypothermia should be brought indoors, put in dry clothes, covered in warm blankets, and then wait for paramedics to arrive. It’s important to try and warm the central parts of the body such as head, neck, chest, and groin, but avoid direct electric blanket contact with the skin and active rubbing if the skin is showing signs of frostbite.
But prevention is key and crucial so this doesn’t happen. Its the best party of the year so prepare yourself by doing the following:
- Wear multiple layers of clothing
- Bring an extra pair of dry socks
- Avoid getting wet (i.e. falling off a boat, getting splashed with champagne)
- Change your clothes if you worked up a sweat dancing
- Check with your medical provider if some of your medical conditions (i.e. hypothyroid) or medications (i.e. narcotics, and sedatives) put you at risk for hypothermia
- Avoid alcohol intoxication
- Keep an eye on your more vulnerable buddies who include children, older individuals, and those with intellectual disabilities.
A Happy New Year should also be a Healthy New Year. So be warm, dry, safe and have fun!!
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician