Welcome to Little Aid’s website and blog… I’m new to this blogging malarchy, so bear with me if it meanders somewhat as I look at hypothermia in children and babies.
This week we have been in Cornwall paddling, both on open water and on some of the extremely flooded rivers that have been in the news. Saturday was particularly wet and windy, but as well as a hardened group of canoeists, I was surprised to find the local triathlon club out training in only shorts, t-shirts and trainers. Not the adults, they were probably doing something more sensible indoors, no this was the junior section. They were running a circuit of the reservoir, cycling several circuits and also practicing the transition phases. The youngest were only 6 or 7 years old and the longer the session went on the more mistakes they were making whilst practising getting on their bikes, cycling and getting off to transition to the running phase. Some children were visibly shivering, whilst others who had been shivering, appeared to have stopped, but were now grumbling more loudly about being there as they cycled past, nearly falling off at what should be a very easy corner to take.
What surprised, possibly shocked, me more was that their parents were watching this, with the young triathletes younger siblings many of whom were still in pushchairs.
As we head into some of the coldest months of the year it is important to recognise the tell tale signs of hypothermia in children and babies, particularly if your child is still too young to tell you.
The onset of hypothermia occurs when the core body temperature falls below 35°C. The underlying cause of hypothermia in children and babies is over exposure to cold temperature, however other factors can increase the risk:
- Children and babies under 4 years can be particularly at risk, as the temperature control area of the brain is not yet fully developed.
- Wet clothing, or immersion in cold water, results in the body cooling much faster than it would in dry air
- A child who is not clothed properly in windy conditions will have cold air continually in contact with the skin, resulting in faster cooling of the body.
The symptoms of hypothermia in children and babies can vary depending on whether it is mild, moderate or severe. The severity of hypothermia is determined by how low their body temperature has become.
MILD HYPOTHERMIA IN CHILDREN AND BABIES
The early symptoms of hypothermia are often recognised by you. This is because hypothermia can cause confusion, poor judgement and a change in behaviour which means the child affected may not realise that they have it.
If someone has mild hypothermia (generally with a body temperature of 32-35˚C), the symptoms aren’t always obvious but they can include:
- constant shivering
- low energy
- cold or pale skin
- fast breathing (hyperventilation)
MODERATE HYPOTHERMIA IN CHILDREN AND BABIES
Moderate cases of hypothermia (generally with a body temperature of 28-32˚C) can include symptoms such as:
- violent, uncontrollable shivering (although shivering can stop completely at lower temperatures as the body is unable to generate heat)
- being unable to think or pay attention
- confusion (some people don’t realise they’re affected)
- loss of judgement and reasoning (someone with hypothermia may decide to remove clothing despite being very cold)
- difficulty moving around
- loss of co-ordination
- slurred speech
- slow, shallow breathing (hypoventilation)
SEVERE HYPOTHERMIA IN CHILDREN AND BABIES
The symptoms of severe hypothermia (a body temperature of below 28˚C) can include:
- unconsciousness (comatose)
- shallow or no breathing
- weak, irregular or no pulse
- dilated pupils
Your child may in fact appear to be dead. However, under these circumstances they must be taken to hospital in order for it to be decided whether they have died, or are in a state of severe hypothermia. If this is the case, advanced medical intervention may still be able to resuscitate them.
HYPOTHERMIA IN BABIES
Babies with hypothermia may look healthy but their skin will feel cold. They may also be limp, unusually quiet and refuse to feed.
TREATMENT OF HYPOTHERMIA IN CHILDREN AND BABIES
If you can shelter your child, remove any wet clothing. Quickly replace with dry, warm clothes or blankets and cover the head.
If indoors, heat the room to a warm temperature (25°C). If your child is outdoors you should insulate them from the environment and ground. Share your body heat with them if possible.