How To Treat A Person With Hypothermia
Approximately 1,300 U.S. deaths each year are caused by hypothermia – exposure to excessive natural cold. And it’s one of the leading causes of death in survival-based situations.
Hypothermia can sneak up on you almost without notice. And once it has taken hold, your life is in immediate danger.
For those reasons, it’s crucial that you’re able to properly identify the early stages of hypothermia and be able to treat it with basic first aid. Both in yourself and those riding with you.
Once you’re able to identify hypothermia, you’re able to effectively combat it before it diminishes your mental capacity and ability to properly treat it.
What Is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia occurs when more heat is lost than your body can generate. By definition, it’s when your internal body temperature is less than 95°F.
Essentially, your body is in the process of freezing. Imagine a bag of just-cooked chili being placed in a freezer. The heat will be sucked right out of it and it can do nothing about it.
What Causes Hypothermia?
The main cause of hypothermia is prolonged exposure to cold conditions. But that doesn’t simply mean being out in freezing temperatures without adequate heat. Some additional factors can put you more at risk than others:
- High wind chill factor
- High humidity
- Cool, damp environment
Aside from strictly climatic conditions, other factors can come into play to cause hypothermia:
- Wet or inadequate clothing – i.e. falling into a body of water and not changing clothing, wearing shorts when it’s freezing outside, etc.
- Body composition – people with less fat are more at risk of contracting hypothermia; therefore they should make sure to wear additional layers of clothing.
- Not wearing head protection – when fully clothed, you lose most of your body heat through your head. So even something as simple as not covering your head when it’s cold outside can potentially cause hypothermia, given enough time.
What Are The First Signs?
The signs and symptoms of hypothermia usually don’t appear right away. Instead, they develop slowly and over an extended period of time.
Two of the most dangerous symptoms of hypothermia are loss of mental acuity and physical ability. If riding alone, both of these conditions can spell disaster. That’s why it’s important you always have someone with you when you’re riding in colder climates.
Besides a loss of mental acuity and physical ability, other prominent signs and signs of hypothermia include:
- Abnormally slow breathing
- Bright red, cold skin (especially in children and infants)
- Cold, pale skin
- Loss of coordination (Hand-to-eye, feet-to-eye, etc.)
- Memory loss
- Speech impairment (slurred, stuttering, etc.)
How to Treat a Person Without A First Aid Kit
Once you’ve identified the first symptoms of hypothermia, immediately start first aid treatment using the following steps:
If possible, call 911 immediately.
Move the person out of the cold. If possible, find cover for the person via a tent or other structure. If not possible, then remove them from the elements as much as you can. Give them protection from the wind, cover their head, and insulate them as much as possible.
Remove all wet clothing. Remove any and all articles of wet clothing. Once removed, immediately dress them in layers of dry, warm clothing.
Use warm compresses on head, neck, chest, and groin. NEVER apply direct heat. And NEVER try to warm with compresses to their arms or legs. Doing so can force cold blood back towards their brain, lungs, and head, which could send them into shock.
Give them warm non-alcoholic beverages. Warm water works best. Never give them alcohol.
Don’t massage or rub the person. If he has hypothermia, there’s a possibility he could have frostbite on his skin. Rubbing frostbitten skin can cause severe damage to the underlying tissue.
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