Winter weather brings fun, adventure and risks. We should approach each activity with an attitude of safety and fun, in that order. With a little preplanning you can prevent trouble on your next cold weather adventure.
What is hypothermia?
It is simply the loss of body heat through exposure to elements colder than your body. The rate of heat loss is greater that the body’s ability to generate warmth and the body slowly shuts down to compensate and preserve vital organs.
What causes hypothermia?
Anything that allows the body to lose more heat than it generates could be a factor in getting hypothermia. Poor clothing for the chosen winter activity seems to be the number one factor in getting hypothermia.
The loss of excessive body heat could be as simple as prolonged exposure by a swimmer to cool water. It could happen to a hiker dressed in light clothing that gets caught in a rain storm. It doesn’t have to be below freezing for hypothermia to occur. Wind and moisture on unprotected skin will increase the rate of heat loss.
Know the signs that you or someone has, or is getting, hypothermic
Obvious signs include shivering, numbness in fingers and toes, or frostbite on fingers and toes and on exposed areas such as nose, cheeks and ears.
Also watch for these signs: fatigue, stumbling, slurred speech, confusion, poor decision making.
More advanced signs could include sensations of feeling warm and wanting to shed more clothing and lay down to sleep, and finally loss of consciousness.
Proper clothing for the activity should be a first priority. Your goal is to stay warm and dry. Remember that your body acts as a radiator, so protect and cover heat loss areas such as your head, neck, feet and hands. Wear layers so you can self-regulate your body heat by adding or removing layers as needed to stay comfortable.
Be aware of others around you so you can recognize the signs and assist before any situation becomes serious or deadly.
Remember that one of the symptoms of hypothermia is confusion and poor decision making. Be kind, understanding, and gentle with the victim so they will understand that you are helping them.
Stop the hypothermia “cooling down” process.
Get the victim indoors if possible or at least to a location that is protected from the wind.
Shed all wet or moist clothing. Dry clothes are a must.
Wrap the victim in warm blankets or a sleeping bag.
If the victim is alert, offer warm drinks.
Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks as they will increase the body’s heat loss.
Warm packs can be placed in armpits and groin area to assist in heat retention.
In severe cases or when in doubt, call EMS. It is never wrong to call for assistance!
Stay warm, Stay safe, Have fun!