Hypothermia

Like clockwork, the body reliably maintains a normal temperature. Nonetheless, exposure to cold temperatures and/or cool, wet conditions can cause failure to maintain a safe body temperature, and it can plummet to a dangerous low.

Definition

Hypothermia is a serious medical condition where a person's body temperature drops below average, a cold-weather danger. This happens when the core body temperature drops to below 95º Fahrenheit or 35º Celsius. If it falls below that, the condition becomes more critical and needs immediate attention. This is a life-threatening situation and first aid must be applied to raise the body temperature.

Exposure to cold weather when camping, hiking, exercising or participating in outdoor activities puts you at risk of both hyperthermia and frostbite, more so if you get wet. You need to be prudent, especially if you're with a very young or elderly person. The following guide can help you during an emergency. It is not intended to be a replacement for professional medical attention.

Symptoms and Signs

  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Goosebumps - a very early sign
  • Irrational behavior, Incoherence
  • Muscle Tension
  • Pale or pink skin and cool to touch
  • Slow pulse
  • Slurred Speech
  • Violent shivering
  • Weak pulse

These symptoms don't appear all at once and usually come on gradually. If you find someone with most or all of these signs, that means that they've been exposed for quite some time and you need to seek help ASAP.

Emergency Treatment

You may feel helpless but there's plenty you can do until medical personnel arrives. Let your survival instinct kick in. Your goal is to warm up the victim and get them into a sheltered and warm environment. Be gentle, the patient is extremely vulnerable at this time, both physically and emotionally. No quick movements or rubbing their skin.

  • Call 911 for help or send someone to do so.
  • Move the person to a warm and dry shelter to begin the warming process. Wind aggravates the situation, so block it if you can't reach a manmade shelter.
  • Remove wet clothing and wrap the victim in any dry cloth you have available, coats, shirts, blankets, sleeping bag, etc.
  • Take the person's temperature with a thermometer. If it's 96º or below, it's hypothermia.
  • Try to give the victim warm broth or drink. No alcohol!
  • Your own body heat can help keep the person warm. Lay down close and snuggle up gently.
  • Focus on warming the person's head and torso/trunk. The legs and arms can wait.
  • If a person stops breathing, begin CPR.

Hypothermia Prevention

You may feel helpless but there's plenty you can do until medical personnel arrives. Let your survival instinct kick in. Your goal is to warm up the victim and get them into a sheltered and warm environment. Be gentle, the patient is extremely vulnerable at this time, both physically and emotionally. No quick movements or rubbing their skin.

  • Always be prepared for colder temperatures and sufficient clothing and shelter.
  • Proper nutrition and hydration is very important, so don't skip meals and always carry snacks in your backpack.
  • If clothing becomes wet, discard it and change into dry clothes. Do whatever it takes, cut if off if necessary.
  • Body heat escapes quicker through your head and feet so keep them covered adequately.
  • Always pack extra blankets.
  • Water makes the situation much worse. Try to stay away from bodies of water if there's any chance of a fall or capsize.

This information is in no way intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Use this guide at your own risk and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach of us more than we can ever learn from books.” - John Lubbock