With winter approaching, the temperatures are sinking quickly. This doesn’t mean that outdoor activities have to dwindle away though. When enjoying yourself outside in the woods, you can be aware of when you get too cold and what to look for. Knowing the symptoms and warning signs ahead of time can help you to get warm sooner and prevent disaster on your trips.
Hypothermia occurs when your body’s core temperature gets too cold. It’s more serious than being chilled because your body gets so cold that it cannot function and causes damage. When the temperature reaches the dangerous tipping point of 95 degrees, your organs can no longer perform well. The downward spiral leads to a slow progression of organ failure and then death. Once you reach that point, rewarming slowly and rapid recognition to receive medical treatment is the only way to prevent permanent damage and death.
Signs and Symptoms
Recognizing the symptoms in yourself or someone near you can be the difference that saves a life. Look for any one or combination of these signs. Seeing them earlier will save their life and keep them from having lasting effects.
- Slurred speech or mumbling,
- Fatigue or exhaustion,
- Loss of coordination, clumsiness, or fumbling hands,
- Memory loss,
- Slow breathing and pulse, or
- Bright red, cold skin (in very young children and infants).
Those Most at Risk
There are some people who are at a higher risk to getting colder quicker. Knowing those who are at a higher risk can help prevent the disaster and limit their exposure before it occurs.
- Alcohol or Drugs-alcohol may make you feel warm, but it actually causes them to loose heat quicker. Substances that can impair judgement can also cause someone to not dress appropriately or fall asleep outside.
- Elderly individuals struggle to regulate their body heat. The older they are, the les their body is able to keep up with the temperature changes.
- Young children also struggle as they loose heat faster, don’t think of the consequences of not dressing for the weather, and will not know what to do when they get too cold.
- Medications or medical conditions such as thyroid disorders, diabetes, anorexia, stroke, or certain medications can make the body impair and unable to adjust to the colder temperatures.
- Homeless individuals or those who spend long periods of time outside like hikers or hunters are at risk as they have prolonged exposure to the cold.
What To Do
If you or someone with you has any of the signs above, you should take steps to help them warm up and know when to get help.
- Move the person to a warmer environment.
- Avoid sudden or shaking movements as they can trigger their heart to enter irregular, dangerous rhythms.
- Remove wet or cold clothing carefully.
- Apply warm blankets (but not electric that can warm too quickly), ensuring that the core is warmed and extremities.
- Provide warm beverages, NOT alcohol.
- Check their temperature and monitor closely. If at any time there temperature is 95 degrees or lower, call for help immediately and provide continued efforts to warm. 95 is the key point where damage occurs and they will need careful warming procedures, testing, and care to monitor their improvement.
- Call for help if they don’t improve or if symptoms persist.
- If their heart stops, begin CPR and stop warming procedures. The cold can protect their brain and while they are being revived. The saying is, “they’re not dead until they’re warm and dead” because the cold can preserve their neurologic function, this is even more true in children.
What NOT To Do
- Do not use direct contact with a heat source such as radiators, sitting too close to a fireplace, heat lamp, stove or heating blanket. Doing so can reheat the area too quickly and cause damage to the tissues.
- Do not rub or massage the areas affected by frostbite.
- Do not let them sleep it off.
Seeing the signs, getting help quickly, and taking the cold seriously are ways to prevent damage from continuing and worsening. You’ll need to watch them very carefully in case they get too cold or don’t get better. If you are ever unsure, call for help and let the professionals look them over. Testing to make sure that their body is warm, functioning properly, and that damage hasn’t occurred is very important.
Knowing what the signs are, what to do, and when to get help are the best ways to help yourself and those around you. Little things like this can help to keep you and your loved ones safe this winter. Just because it gets cold out, it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy it safely.