St John Ambulance’s Winter Warning on Keeping Warm and Dry and Spotting the Signs of Hypothermia

WaterSafe is supporting the Met Office’s Get Ready for Winter Campaign with vital tips on how to keep homes and people warm, safe and dry in freezing temperatures.

This includes insulating to help prevent frozen and burst water pipes, fixing drips and leaks before they lead to problems, checking boilers are serviced and leaving heating on low if away and overnight.

It pays to take these few simple steps in your homes, and support vulnerable neighbours and relatives to do the same, or ask an approved plumber to help.

Alan Weir, clinical director of winter campaign partner St John Ambulance, warns how in cold weather people can be at risk of hypothermia:

“If people don’t keep themselves warm in freezing temperatures, there is a risk they could get hypothermia – especially if they’re elderly, very young, or suffer from long term health conditions.

People may not realise, but it’s possible to get hypothermia even when you’re indoors – if it’s very cold and temperatures drop to below 18°C (64.4°F).

As the condition can become life-threatening quickly, it’s vital to be able to recognise symptoms and give treatment straight away.

Hypothermia kicks in when someone’s body temperature drops below 35°C (95°F) and, sadly, is often fatal once the body temperature drops below 30°C (86°F). Normal body temperature is around 37°C (98.6°F).

These are the symptoms of hypothermia to look out for:

  • Shivering and pale, cold, dry skin
  • Tiredness, confusion, and irrational behaviour
  • Slow and shallow breathing
  • Slow and weakening pulse
  • If their temperature drops to 32°C (89.6°F) or lower, they'll usually stop shivering completely and may pass out.

Take action quickly

If the above symptoms are present, then it is likely the casualty is already suffering from hypothermia. This is what you must do:

  • Cover the casualty with layers of blankets and warm the room to about 25°C (77°F). Do NOT place any direct heat, such as hot water bottles or fires near a casualty, as this may cause burns.
  • Give them something warm to drink, like soup or a high-energy food like chocolate.
  • Do NOT give the casualty alcohol in an attempt to warm them, it will make hypothermia worse.
  • Call 999/112. It’s possibly that hypothermia could also be disguising a more serious illness such as a stroke, heart attack or an underactive thyroid gland.
  • Monitor their breathing, level of response and temperature until they recover.

Of course, prevention is better than cure and the best protection against hypothermia is to try not to get so cold in the first place – so wear warm clothes and try to get up and move around if possible, every hour.

However, if it sets in, knowing these symptoms and giving the correct treatment promptly could be the difference between a life lost and a life saved. Remember to check on your neighbours! For further information visit the St John Ambulance website.

Our aim at St John Ambulance is for everyone to know simple, life saving skills. Please take the time to check out our First Aid Advice page for more information, including videos, on dealing with first aid emergencies.”

If you need help to insulate water pipes or fix drips and leaks it’s advisable to use a plumber who is approved by WaterSafe. If the plumber is working with gas on your heating they must be registered with Gas Safe.

For more information on keeping homes warm and dry visit our winter advice pages.

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