Hypothermia: Symptoms and Prevention

Hypothermia results in death far more often than many might realize. Often the reported cause of death is drowning or heart attack but it’s hypothermia that brought about that condition.

Anyone who has spent time on the land has had at least the early symptoms of hypothermia, or exposure, as it used to be called. These include shivering, goose bumps, chattering teeth and that deep feeling of being chilled.

Hypothermia occurs in the torso when the body loses heat faster than it can create it. Unfortunately, the condition affects the brain as well as the body, so often the victim does not realize or accept that there is a problem and denial makes things worse.

Everyone on an outdoor activity needs to take note of changing behaviours of companions. The first signs are often subtle, such as the decrease in manual dexterity. You’ll see such things as an inability to do up a zipper or button, minor stumbles or slurring of speech. Act fast, do not ignore it and get the person warmed up. If you fail to deal with it right away you will very soon have a crisis situation.

The early stages can be reversed by getting out of the wind, donning more clothing, replacing wet clothing and drinking a hot drink – but steer away from alcohol, it increases the potential for a problem.

Doing a short vigourous burst of exercise such as stride jumps, running on the spot, etc. can also help you warm up.

Don’t overdo it, though. Over-exertion can get you sweaty and worn out. Set a comfortable pace for yourself. When you’re in a group, the group leader should set a pace to accommodate the slowest person on the jaunt.

Always carry extra clothing to deal with weather changes, but leave cotton at home. Cotton absorbs and retains moisture and will not keep you warm when it is wet. Choose fabrics that can continue to provide warmth when wet: garments made of natural material such as wool and silk, or modern manufactured materials such as poly-propylene. Even though, pound for pound, down is the best insulator available, it is useless when it gets wet.

A hat is essential as we lose up to 50 percent of our body heat through our uncovered head. But keep in mind that overheating can cause problems, too.

Overheating makes you sweaty, so your clothing should allow venting of excess heat to keep you in the comfort-range. Venting happens through zippers, Velcro and button closures on your garments.

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