By Nick Italiano
With the extreme cold coming to New England this week, I figured Hypothermia would be a good topic of conversation. Hypothermia is caused by a drop in core body temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, this is commonly caused by extended exposure to cold temperatures or being submerged in cold water. While this most commonly occurs in the winter months, it is possible to become hypothermic in warmer conditions. In spring the air temperature is warm, but water can still be very cold, extended submersion in recently thawed water can easily trigger hypothermia.
Most of the body’s heat loss will occur through the skin, the best way to prevent hypothermia is by adequately covering and insulating your skin. While you may be very comfortable for a short time outdoors in the cold with minimal protection, your body is rapidly losing 90% of its heat through your skin, and the other 10% through breathing. I recommend always having an adequate amount of warm gear on you even if you are day hiking. Temperatures can change drastically in the winter, especially at night. While you may not be expecting to be out there at night, you never know what can happen and an emergency such as an injury that may cause you to be stuck outdoors can become much worse with a 20-degree temperature drop, especially if you lack proper clothing to protect you.
Symptoms of Hypothermia include:
-Shivering uncontrollably in early stages
-Slow, shallow breathing
-Feeling of being drowsy or exhausted
-Loss of coordination and motor function
-slow and/or weak pulse
-In sever cases loss of consciousness and very little signs of breathing or pulse
Treatment for Hypothermia:
-If possible, bring the person indoors, if not do your best to insulate them from the cold ground.
-Remove any wet clothing and replace with warm dry clothing if possible.
-Rewarm the person focusing on their core using extra clothing and blankets.
-If conscious offer warm fluids, without caffeine or alcohol as they speed heat loss.
-If the person is unconscious begin CPR and contact emergency medical personnel immediately.
-Do not warm extremities first (arms and legs) as this can cause arrhythmia (irregular heart beat)
-Do not put in a warm shower or bath as this can cause arrhythmia (irregular heart beat)
Hypothermia can be very serious, and in severe cases lethal. Even if you believe you have the situation under control your best bet is to contact emergency medical services if possible. From the picture you can see a few things that I always have with me when going into the wilderness in wintry weather, A wool blanket and emergency blankets. Wool is very warm and can help your body retain heat even when wet, emergency blankets act be reflecting your own body heat helping you retain it. While these are not an end all be all solution to hypothermia, they can help prevent you from getting into a hypothermic state in an emergency and be used to assist in rewarming if needed.