Hypothermia in Children: What to Do

Hypothermia in young children and particularly babies can be difficult to detect because they're not yet able to express themselves fully. It's important to act quickly and take the necessary measures to restore body temperature as soon as possible.
Hypothermia in Children: What to Do
Sergio Alonso Castrillejo

Reviewed and approved by the pharmacist Sergio Alonso Castrillejo.

Written by Editorial Team

Last update: 07 October, 2022

Hypothermia in children happens when their body temperature decreases below the limits considered normal – that is, below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The body’s thermoregulation mechanisms begin to fail when it falls below that.

Hypothermia is usually a consequence of prolonged exposure to cold temperatures without adequate protection. In this article, you’ll learn what should you do if you have to handle a case of hypothermia in young children.

Hypothermia in Children and Babies: What You Should Know

First of all, it’s important to know that there are many different ways the body can lose heat. These include:

  • Radiation: There’s a difference in the temperature gradient between the body and its surrounding environment.
  • Conduction: This happens via contact with surfaces of a specific temperature. In the case of hypothermia, it involves contact with cold or low temperatures.
  • Evaporation: This is the consequence of the loss of heat by the conversion of a body liquid into steam or gas. For example increased sweat, rapid breathing, etc.

Causes of Hypothermia in Children

Hypothermia can occur in any group of the population and at any season of the year. Babies and young children are most likely to be afflicted by it because their body is still developing. Thus, the mechanisms to regulate the temperature aren’t fully developed yet.

The most common causes of hypothermia in children and babies are:

  • Inadequate protection against low temperatures.
  • Allowing the baby or child to wear wet clothes for too long in cold environments or during the cold wind.
  • In some cases, when children have a fever, parents try to lower the temperature by exposing them to cold temperatures (cold packs, low-temperature water baths, fans, etc.). This can lead to a thermoregulation shock due to such a sudden change in temperature.

Hypothermia in Children

Hypothermia in children may be the consequence of inadequate protection from low temperatures. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms.

The Symptoms of Hypothermia

  • Children and infants shiver or get tremors.
  • Also, their skin may become cold and there may get pale, or in the case of many babies, the skin remains pink.
  • Their breathing and pulse slow down.
  • Plus, their reflexes are unresponsive.

You must pay special attention to a baby’s skin temperature, behavioral changes, and lack of appetite, as they can’t tell you they’re cold.

How to Handle Hypothermia in an Infant

You must contact a doctor at the first sign of hypothermia in your baby. If you can’t get immediate medical attention, then do the following while on your way or waiting:

  • Increase the heat of their environment gradually and take them to a heated room.
  • Remove any wet clothes they might be wearing.
  • Cover and protect their head with a hat or a blanket and hug them against your chest so they warm up to your body heat.
  • You mustn’t apply a direct heat source on their bare skin. Also, don’t use hot bottles or compresses unless there is a cloth in between, as it could lead to burns.
  • Check the child’s vital signs every once in a while, even after you’ve stabilized their hypothermia. Likewise, check their breath if they lose consciousness. If you have to do mouth to mouth resuscitation, put the child in a recovery position (lateral). Then, do the mouth to mouth and proceed to do a cardiac massage while you wait for medical attention.

Read more: Treatment for Hypothermia Patients

If you have a case of baby hypothermia in your hands, then it’s important to warm them up gradually. If their symptoms get worse or are obviously severe, then you must to whatever you deem necessary to take them to a doctor as soon as possible.

How to Handle Hypothermia in Children

Depending on the seriousness of the situation, you might have to make a 911 call. Evaluate the symptoms. If you don’t notice serious signs of hypothermia, then proceed to the following steps:

  • Place the child in a tub full of warm (not hot) water until you see that the color of their skin returns to normal. Then, help them out and dry them quickly.
  • After, dress them up in warm, dry clothes and take them into a warm room and wrap them in as many blankets as they need. Just like in the case of babies, you can hug them to warm them up with your body heat. Also, cover their heads with a hat, as well as their hands and feet.
  • Additionally, give them hot liquids and energy food.
  • Don’t leave them alone at any time, as the symptoms may worsen.

In general, body temperature will return to normal in a relatively short period after you apply these techniques. However, if it doesn’t and the child gets worse, take them immediately to the emergency room or call an ambulance.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.