Chilling Effect: Hypothermia Dangers and How to Avoid Them

The tragic case of the Kim family, who became stranded in the snow in the Oregon wilderness, reminds of how unpredictable and dangerous severe weather can be, as well as how exposure to plummeting temperatures can be hazardous to our health.

That the wife and children survived until they could be rescued is a miracle. The sad fate of the father, who perished in the freezing woods while trying to seek help, offers us an unfortunate opportunity to learn about how the body reacts to extreme cold over time, and also how we can take preventative measures and precautions to stay safe this winter.

Hypothermia is a condition defined as the profound cooling of the body core temperature to less than 96 degrees F. As our body temperature drops, the cooling effect has a significant impact on our senses. People with hypothermia become very disoriented; others develop hallucinations. These conditions can produce atypical behavior, and often exacerbate the problem by interfering with a person's judgment and ability to take care of themselves, which could explain some of the findings in the Oregon canyon investigation.

As the body temperature continues to drop, our heart rate becomes irregular, and without medical intervention, hypothermia ultimately results in death. Of course, the cooling effects take time, and our brain tries to slow the cooling effects with involuntary muscle contractions that manufacture heat. During this time, preventatative measures to keep warm may just save your life.

Many people think that to get hypothermia, one needs to be exposured to extremely frigid temperatures. This is not true. The condition results from what I call the trifecta of hypothermia: Cool temperatures, wetness and wind.

It could be a sunny day, but if you get exposed to all these conditions at the same time for a long time, you might just get hypothermia.

So with the cold, wet, windy weather taking hold in much of the country, what precautions can we take? Here are a few tips:

--Dress properly for the weather: wear a hat, coat, gloves, and a face mask for extreme cold

--Keep dry

--Limit your time outdoors in very frigid temperatures

--Avoid alcohol

--When hiking, camping, skiing or otherwise spending time outdoors in cold temperatures, always have a partner with you, and always carry a cell phone, walkie talkie, or some other means that will enable you to call or signal for help.

Dr. Manny Alvarez is the managing editor of health news at, and is a regular medical contributor on the FOX News Channel. He is chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Additionally, Alvarez is Adjunct Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit