How should I care for someone with hypothermia?

Dr. Leigh Vinocur, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

If you come upon someone who is out in the elements and appears to be suffering from hypothermia, here are some things you can do:

  • Start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if he or she has no pulse or is not breathing.
  • Call 911.
  • Move the victim to a warm area and remove any wet clothing.
  • Do not apply direct heat to extremities, which causes a further drop in core temperature.
  • If the victim is awake and conscious, give him or her warm, nonalcoholic beverages.

Remember being prepared for an emergency is the best way to avoid one, so stay warm and stay safe.

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To care for hypothermia:

  • Start by caring for life-threatening conditions.
  • Make the person comfortable.
  • Gently move the person to a warm place.
  • Remove wet clothing and dry the person. Put on dry clothing. Warm the body gradually by wrapping the person in blankets and plastic sheeting to hold in body heat. Also, keep the head covered to further retain body heat.
  • If you are far from medical care, position the person near a heat source or apply heat pads or other heat sources to the body, such as containers filled with warm water. Carefully monitor any heat source to avoid burning the person. Keep a barrier, such as a blanket, towel or clothing, between the heat source and the person.
  • If the person is alert, give warm liquids that do not contain alcohol or caffeine. Alcohol can cause heat loss and caffeine can cause dehydration. Do not warm the person too quickly, such as by immersing the person in warm water. Check breathing and monitor for any changes in the person’s condition, and care for shock.

In cases of severe hypothermia, the person may be unconscious. Breathing may have slowed or stopped. The body may feel stiff because the muscles became rigid.

  • Check for breathing for no more than 10 seconds. If the person is not breathing, perform CPR.
  • Continue to warm the person until emergency medical services (EMS) personnel take over.
  • Be prepared to use an automated external defibrillator (AED), if available.


If you notice any of the signs of hypothermia, take the person's temperature. If it is below 95 degrees, the situation is an emergency—get medical attention immediately.

If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:

  • Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
  • If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
  • Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available. Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
  • Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
  • After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
  • Get medical attention as soon as possible.

A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the victim gently, and get emergency assistance immediately. Even if the victim appears dead, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should be provided. CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.