When your body temperature begins to drop, danger can set within minutes. People often think hypothermia only happens in the wintertime, outdoors and to those who participate in outdoor activities such as hunting, camping, ice-fishing or hiking. While this group of people maybe more prone to hypothermia—simply because of the elements and activities in which they participate—nothing could be further from the truth. According the National Institute of Aging, almost 28,000 people die every year from hypothermia. Hypothermia can happen almost anywhere and to anyone—regardless of age, activity or season.
Hypothermia can be mild or severe. Because mild levels of hypothermia are often not caused by extremely cold temperatures, many of us have experienced a case of mild hypothermia.
The symptoms for mild hypothermia often include:
- Lack of concentration
- Lack of coordination
- Increased heart rate
- Faster breathing
- Trouble speaking
- High blood pressure
Even mild hypothermia is dangerous—left untreated, it can quickly turn into moderate, or even severe, hypothermia which is extremely dangerous.
Indicators for moderate to severe hypothermia may include:
- Shivering is the body’s attempt to warm itself. The more pronounced the shivering, the higher risk of danger of hypothermia.
- Clumsiness or lack of coordination
- Slurred speech or mumbling
- Weak pulse
- Shallow or slowed breathing
- Loss of consciousness
Experts recommend you keep the following tips in mind to help you avoid becoming a victim of hypothermia.
- Avoid wearing clothing made of cotton as it does not insulate well. Instead, dress in lightweight layers made of silk, wool or other synthetic material designed to wick moisture away from the body while still providing insulation.
- Cover yourself from head to toe, and avoid exposing any skin to the elements.
- If possible, make sure all outerwear is waterproof. Moisture on your skin, coupled with cold temperatures, increases the rate at which hypothermia begins.
- Avoid overexertion as it causes you to sweat. Sweating may cause you to either remove layers of clothing or get your skin wet, which causes your body to cool even faster. Try to stay dry at all times.
- Avoid drinking cold beverages.
- Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages.
- Drink hot beverages as this helps warm up the body’s core temperature.
- Two are better than one. Use a buddy system if possible in case one of you needs help.
- Keep blankets, hand warmers and other emergency gear on hand.
Dressing properly, staying dry and avoiding overexertion are all important tips to remember to avoid hypothermia. Knowing what to do if you, or someone you encounter, show signs of this coldblooded killer can mean the difference between life and death.
Tips for Treating Hypothermia
- Get indoors or to a warmer area.
- Remove wet clothing.
- Wrap victim in blankets or dry clothing, and focus on warming body core.
- Use skin-to-skin contact if necessary.
- Drink warm beverages if possible.
- Call 911.
Have you, or someone you know, fell victim to hypothermia? Share how you (or they) handled it in the comment section.