Monday, December 5, 2011

Causes of Hypothermia, Symptoms & Preventing Hypothermia

Causes of Hypothermia, Symptoms & Preventing Hypothermia

-Filip Tkaczyk

Rating: ***

There are many precautions you must take when you venture out into the wilderness, including everything from animal awareness to your own safety. It is only too easy to be lured into situations where you put your body at risk, everything from illnesses caused by unpurified water to unanticipated hypothermia. Before you head out into the cruel outdoors, it is important that you understand the principals of crisis management, which includes learning how to treat such conditions. About a fortnight ago, I was presented with the opportunity to practice building a “human burrito”, which is a technique often used to treat mild to moderate hypothermia. After this successful experiment, I became intrigued by the life threatening condition of hypothermia, as well as its’ different treatment methods. This lead me to read an article titled “Causes of Hypothermia, Symptoms & Preventing Hypothermia” covered the indicated topic wonderfully, highlighting all you need to know about the symptoms, prevention and treatment of hypothermia.

According to the article, “Causes of Hypothermia, Symptoms & Preventing Hypothermia”, hypothermia can be defined as the state that the human body enters when it is losing heat faster than it can reproduce it. As one’s body temperature declines below 95oF, about three degrees less than the average human body temperature, the nervous system and vital organs begin to have difficulty functioning normally. This can lead to extreme discomfort, as well as the failure of organs, or in even more drastic cases, death. This is why it is important that you be able to identify the symptoms of hypothermia early on, before they get to be dangerous. Initially, someone who is becoming hypothermic will shiver, although this will later stop if the condition worsens. As the person falls further into the grasps of hypothermia they will lose the ability to perform tasks that involve coordination, such as walking or even speaking coherently. Their judgment may also become slightly obscured, which could lead them to make poor decisions. In addition, they could also begin to feel laxidasical and suffer from a serious lose of energy. As time goes on, someone suffering from acute hypothermia may also lose consciousness, have a weakened heartbeat or have difficulty breathing. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of all is that someone suffering from this condition is most likely not aware of it. A hypothermic person will only continue to decrease in condition until they have been removed from what is making them so, which is why it is ever so important that you be able to identify the symptoms before it’s too late.

Although hypothermia can occur when one is indoors, it arises most commonly outside, particularly in wilderness situations. The main cause of hypothermia is exposure, to cold winds, temperatures or waters; sometimes, a combination of the three. It is easy to fall victim to this cruel condition, for it is simple, yet common, mistakes that lead to it. Flukes, such as falling through ice into freezing water, or being unable to remove yourself from what is making you cold, such as cold or wet clothing or unruly weather conditions, are often factors that lead to hypothermia. Silly errors, such as being inadequately dressed for the harsh weather, can also be deadly when you are out in the wilderness. Ideally, you should be wearing many lose, light layers, being sure to avoid cotton as it loses its’ ability to contain heat when wet, and will therefore encourage hypothermia. Silk, wool and polypropylene are all excellent inner layers while tight, water-repellant clothing makes for a wonderful outer layer that provides effective wind protection. A natural alternative to this would be stuffing your out layer with dry leaves and debris, which will function as an insulator. Packing your sweatshirt or jacket as tight as you can is ideal, so you minimize the amount of wind that can penetrate. Covering your extremities is also highly important whenever you travel outside, for we lose most our body heat through our heads and feet, which makes hats and boots, in addition to gloves, a necessity. Besides you wardrobe selection, there are a few other precautions you can take to prevent hypothermia; such as avoiding sweating as much as possible. This is because the sweat inevitably cools and can lower your body temperature if not dealt with accordingly.

Regardless of all the precautions you take, there is always a chance that you, someone from your group or even someone you find will be affected by hypothermia in the outdoors. Although immediate medical attention would be the ideal solution, it isn’t always manageable. It is for this reason that everyone should be somewhat knowledgeable of the basic survival treatment techniques for dealing with hypothermia. The first thing you must consider when you realize that someone has become hypothermic is evaluate the situation: there condition as well as the potential risks. You must then be sure to handle the patient with care, being careful not to move them too much, as the stimulation can cause the chilled blood to flow back to their core, potentially sending them into cardiac arrest. One of the very first things you are going to want to do is remove the victim from what is causing their hypothermia whether it is wet clothing or poor shelter. Once you have removed the hypothermic person from what is making them cold, you must get them into a warm, sheltered area. This is where the human burrito is ideal, although if you lack the required equipment, a low shelter, a fire and a thick bedding of leaves and debris will suffice. Once you have done that, you can also apply a warm, dry compress to the person in order to slowly raise their body temperature and comfort levels. An adequate substitute would be hot water bottles. Sharing body heat is a very widely known treatment for hypothermia, although it can be questionable in the sense that you could be endangering yourself by doing so. That being said, it is important to remember that you are the most important person in the rescue situation, as you are no help to anyone if you have become hypothermic as well. Finally, if the person suffering from hypothermia is still capable of swallowing, it is advised that you give them a hot beverage that isn’t caffeinated or alcoholic; this will at least provide the victim with a warm sensation, which is sure to be comforting to someone who is deathly cold.

Reading this article made me realize how easily one of my peers or I could have become hypothermic on the camping trip, or even during regular class events. This article taught me not only the importance of planning ahead in order to avoid hypothermia, but also how to identify the symptoms. In addition, I also was reminded of the many diverse treatment techniques in existence; although it is said that the best treatment is prevention!

Tkaczyk, Filip. “Causes of Hypothermia, Symptoms & Preventing Hypothermia”. ALDERLEAF WILDERNESS COLLEGE. 2006. (December 4, 2011).

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