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Preventing Hypothermia: A Life Threatening Illness

09 Sep 2015

Hypothermia is a medical emergency in which the human body begins to lose its core temperature, faster than the body can heat itself back up. Normally the human body resides at a solid 98° F. Hypothermia is medically defined as the body dropping to a temperature below 95° F, and is generally a result of exposure to cold weather or cold water. If untreated, the bodies primary organs such as our heart and lungs can begin to malfunction in the sense that they begin to slow down. If one is exposed to hypothermia long enough, this could lead to respiratory and heart failure; eventually leading to death. There are many precautionary steps to take in order to avoid hypothermia, one of which is to monitor your local weather of any incoming rain or cold fronts.

Going out for a hike?

Hikers are generally the most vulnerable to hypothermia, due to excessive sweating and cold nights. It's extremely important that you properly prepare for your hike ahead of time by following this list:

  • First and foremost, check the weather to see what it will be like outdoors. Bringing the proper clothing for you hike/camping session is the very first step you need to take. Assess the situation, if you see that it's likely going to pour outside, you should probably consider postponing your trip. If it's going to be cold, make sure you layer your clothing to keep your core temperature warm.
    • Always bring an extra set of clothes in case you begin to sweat and plan on staying overnight. Wearing layers of clothing is vital, but if your clothes become damp because of sweat, you'll find your core temperature dropping fairly rapidly if it's cold out.
    • Remember the areas of your body that lose heat the quickest: groin, armpits, head, and your chest.
    • Wear multiple layers of socks and preferably wear waterproof boots. If you plan on embarking on a long hike, you'll need to bring extra pairs of socks in the event the ones your wearing become wet.
      • Your extra clothing should be enclosed in a waterproof bag. If you only have a backpack, pack your clothing in multiple layers of plastic bags. If it starts to rain, make sure you find cover immediately to minimize your exposure and to begin drying yourself immediately.
  • Properly layering your clothing:
    • The first piece of clothing you wear should be made of wicking material. Wicking fabric is designed to keep moisture away from your skin, and will help keep you dry in the event you start to sweat.
    • Your second layer should be made of material designed to keep you warm, such as wool or any other fabric thats similar in nature.
    • Your last layer, the layer that is exposed on top should be water or windproof. If you believe it's going to rain, you should wear a waterproof jacket. If it's going to be dry out, it's better to wear a windproof jacket.
      • NEVER wear cotton. Experts say that when cotton is wet, it will stick to your body and is slow to dry. It is the worst type of fabric to wear in cold and rainy weather, this includes wearing jeans.
  • Make sure you let your friends and family know ahead of time where you plan on hiking, and how long you plan on being out. Always bring a form of communication (cell phone or SPOT messenger) in order to contact your family or friends.
  • If you feel yourself becoming fatigued and sweaty, you need to turn around and go home. Overexerting yourself will make your decision making harder, leading to poor choices which could eventually land you in a dangerous situation. If you're sweating, try slowing down or take a break to allow your body to recover. In the mean time, keep yourself dry with a towel and minimize how wet your clothes become. If they become too damp, you'll need to change your clothes.

Treating hypothermia:

It's important to know the common signs of someone who might come close to hypothermia. This can include shivering, exhaustion, confusion and even slurred speech. In babies, their skin will begin to turn red and they may exhibit signs of sleepiness.

If you believe someone may be in medical danger, start trying to heat their body up, but do so gradually. If you try heating their body too fast, the initial shock can cause more harm than good. If their clothing is wet, offer them a new set of clothes. If you're near any buildings, get yourselves inside right away and allow their bodies to warm up a little more naturally. If possible, offering them a warm drink or soup is your best bet at helping them keep their bodily temperature up. However, if you find someone who is in late stages of hypothermia, you'll need to follow the steps listed above but call an ambulance as well. Hypothermia is nothing to play around with, as it could have a long lasting affect on the body, if not result in death.

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Hypothermia excessive sweating shivering exhaustion confusion slurred speech

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