Guest Author - Lisa Linnell-Olsen
The next cold weather injury we are going to examine is hypothermia, also known as "exposure." Hypothermia occurs when the body is losing heat faster than it can warm itself. The main cause of hypothermia is cold weather exposure. When body temperature dips below 95 degrees F, a person is considered hypothermic and fast action must be taken. When the body becomes too cold, respiration and other body functions do not work properly. If left untreated, hypothermia can lead to death.
Symptoms of hypothermia include constant shivering, confusion, slurred speech, shallow breathing, and weak pulse. Hypothermia victims often become very confused, and will try to remove clothing and tell you they are not cold. In the later stages of hypothermia, the part of the brain that registers cold malfunctions and victims "feel" that they are warm. Because of the nature of the symptoms, if your partner begins acting strange in the cold, do not just take their word for it that they are okay. Check them out, and get help as needed.
Infants have slightly different symptoms. An infants cheeks will turn unusually bright red and the baby will become lethargic.
Once a person has become hypothermic, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Until help is available, though, it is important to gently rewarm the person. Quick rewarming with an electronic heater or lamp could lead to heart failure. Administering warm food and beverages will help to bring up their core body temperature. Remove any wet clothing that is speeding up heat loss. Dress or wrap the person in extra layers to stop further heat loss and aid heat retention. Sharing of body heat with another person, by having both people get into a well insulated sleeping bag, for example, can greatly help rewarm a hypothermia victim. It will be necessary to remove layers of clothing between the people so that the heat can transfer from the warm person to the cool person.
You can use warm, dry compresses such as first aid heat packs or hot water bottles. Apply the compresses to the core areas of the body. Applying the compresses to the extremities will force the cold blood to the core areas, leading to a greater drop in body temperature.
You can prevent hypothermia by the same way you prevent other cold-weather injuries - dress and eat properly for cold weather. Wear a good hat or hood to hold body heat in. Avoid getting sweaty and wet in cold weather. For infants a good rule of thumb is to always dress them in one more layer than what you need. A quick check to see how a infant is doing can be done by placing your bare hand inside their clothing on their chest. Be sure that your hand is warm when you do this, so you do not chill the infant when checking them.
Coming indoors for a warm-up periodically is good advice for children. Children are especially likely to ignore their bodies signs of feeling cold when they are busy having a good time outdoors.
Next in this series of articles will be trenchfoot, the third major cold weather injury.