What is hypothermia? What are the signs?

By Vin T. Sparano

What is hypothermia? What are the signs?

Vin T. Sparano, as excerpted from Complete Guide to Camping and Wilderness Survival

HYPOTHERMIA

Hypothermia is one of the major causes of death among outdoorsmen, and it will strike anyone who is not prepared to handle extreme weather conditions. Hypothermia is caused by exposure to high winds, rain, snow, or wet clothing. A person’s normal core (inner body) temperature is 98.6°F. When the body begins to lose heat, early stages of hypothermia will be apparent. The person will start to shiver and stamp his feet.

If these early signs of hypothermia are ignored, the next stage of symptoms will be uncontrollable spells of shivering, fumbling hands, and drowsiness. If not treated quickly, hypothermia will likely kill its victim when the body temperature drops below 78°F, and this can happen within 90 minutes after shivering begins. If you’re outdoors and detect any of these symptoms in yourself or a friend, start treatment immediately. First, get to shelter and warmth as soon as possible. If no shelter is available, build a fire. Get out of wet clothing and apply heat to the victim’s head, neck, chest, and groin. Use chemical heat packs if you have them. If not, use body heat from another person. If you have a sleeping bag, the victim should be placed in it with another person.

As the victim begins to recover, give him warm liquids, chocolate, or any other high-sugar-content foods. Never give a hypothermia patient alcohol. It will only impair judgment, dilate blood vessels, and impair shivering (the body’s way of producing heat).

If you’re in a boat and capsize into cold water, don’t take off your clothing; it will help trap heat. If you are wearing a life jacket, draw your knees up to your body, which will reduce heat loss. If there are several people in the water, huddle together so you can conserve heat. Survival in cold water depends on the water temperature. If the water temperature is 32.5 degrees Fahrenheit, survival time may be under 15 minutes. If the water temperature is more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, survival time is indefinite.

Preventing hypothermia is a lot easier than treating it. First, stay in shape and get a good night’s sleep before going outdoors. You should carry a survival kit with a change of clothing, waterproof matches, and candy, mixed nuts, raisins, or other high-energy snacks. Stay as dry as possible and avoid getting overheated. Wet clothing will lose 90 percent of its insulating qualities and will rob the body of heat.

Stop and rest often, and, most important, dress properly. This means wearing several layers of clothing to form an insulating barrier against the cold. Carry rain gear and use it when the first drops fall. Wear a wool hat with some kind of ear protection. Several manufacturers now make wool knit caps with a Gore-Tex lining, which will keep your head and ears dry in a downpour. It’s a fact that an uncovered head can lose up to 50 percent of the body’s heat.

Frostbite

Frostbite is the freezing of an area of the body, usually the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, or toes.

Just before the actual onset of frostbite, the skin may appear slightly flushed. Then, as frostbite develops, the skin becomes white or grayish yellow. Blisters may develop later. In the early stages the victim may feel pain, which later subsides. The affected area feels intensely cold and numb, but the victim is often unaware of the problem until someone tells him or he notices the pale, glossy skin. First-aid treatment is as follows:

  1. Enclose the frostbitten area with warm hands or warm cloth, using firm pressure. Do not rub with your hands or with snow. If the affected area is on the fingers or hands, have the victim put his hands into his armpits.

  2. Cover the area with woolen cloth.

  3. Get the victim indoors or into a warm shelter as soon as possible. Immerse the frostbitten area in warm—not hot—water. If that is not possible, wrap the area in warm blankets. Do not use hot-water bottles or heat lamps, and do not place the affected area near fire or a hot stove.

  4. When the frostbitten part has been warmed, encourage the victim to move it.

  5. Give the victim something warm to drink.

  6. If the victim must travel, apply a sterile dressing that widely overlaps the affected area, and be sure enough clothing covers it to keep it warm.

  7. Medical attention is usually necessary.

 

 

 

 

About the author:

Vin T. Sparano is the author of Complete Outdoors Encyclopedia as well as three other guides for Rizzoli

He has been an outdoor editor and writer for more than fifty years. He is editor emeritus of Outdoor Life, and has written and edited more than fifteen books about the outdoors. In 2013, he was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.


About the Author: Vin T. Sparano is the author of Complete Outdoors Encyclopedia as well as three other guides for Rizzoli

He has been an outdoor editor and writer for more than fifty years. He is editor emeritus of Outdoor Life, and has written and edited more than fifteen books about the outdoors. In 2013, he was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.

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