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Protecting yourself against hypothermia.

Protecting yourself against hypothermia

Presumably, you don't intend to jeopardize your life enjoying the outdoors. Yet many people do just that by venturing into the cold unprepared. Hypothermia--lowering of the body's normal 98.6| inner temperature--is the number one killer of recreationists in remote settings.

Hypothermia is not just freezing to death in the snow. Most cases develop in air temperatures above freezing. They're caused by exposure to cold, aggravated by water (melted snow, rain, sweat), wind, and exhaustion.

The moment your body begins to lose heat faster than it produces it, you are putting yourself in danger. Body temperature falls first in the extremities, then in the central "core' area.

Early warnings

A cold or numb feeling is your first warning. If you don't exercise to stay warm, your body makes involuntary adjustments (like shivering) to produce heat. Symptoms vary from person to person; look for:

persistent or violent shivering

vague, slurred, or incoherent speech

memory lapses

clumsy, fumbling hands

frequent stumbling or lurching gait

drowsiness

apparent exhaustion

If heat loss continues until energy reserves are exhausted, cold will reach the brain and deprive the victim of judgment and reasoning power.

Five steps to prevent hypothermia

Stay dry. The combination of wet clothing and physical exhaustion is very dangerous; don't underestimate being wet at cool temperatures. Most clothing loses about 90 percent of its insulating value when wet, and water held against the body flushes heat from the body's surface. Perspiration trapped inside rain gear that doesn't "breathe' can soak clothing.

Protect against wind. A slight breeze carries heat away from bare skin much faster than still air--a 10-mph wind at 40| will chill you as fast as still air at 28|. Wind refrigerates wet clothes by evaporating moisture from the surface.

Use your clothes. Add or remove layers of clothing as the temperature changes, and be prepared for colder, wetter, and more severe conditions than you expect. Choose garments that insulate well without restricting blood flow. Those made of wool or polypropylene are the best for retaining body heat when wet.

Find shelter. If you can't stay dry and warm using the clothes you have with you, get out of the wind and rain and build a fire while you're still alert. If you're far from your destination and good shelter is available, stop and warm up, even if it means spending the night on the trail.

Prevent exhaustion. Make frequent rest stops. Use a portable stove to heat a cup of cocoa, tea, or soup. Snack on high-carbohydrate foods--and always carry at least one extra day's food.

Treatment: the last line of defense

Even mild signs of hypothermia demand immediate attention. Believe the signs, not the victim, who may deny distress.

Get the victim out of the wind and rain and strip off all wet clothes. Dry clothes, a warm sleeping bag, and hot liquids (no alcoholic beverages) will all help raise body temperature. In severe cases, where a person is incoherent or semiconscious, the quickest way to warm him or her is skin-to-skin contact.

Victims of severe hypothermia need professional help fast. Hospitals are equipped to get severely chilled victims out of trouble in a hurry, but laymen should be careful to warm the trunk first. Warming the limbs first draws blood from the body's core, causing further chilling--and the victim may not survive.

The best preparation is a first-aid course covering both prevention and treatment of hypothermia. Check with the Red Cross, park and recreation departments, and Sierra Club chapters.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Feb 1, 1988
Words:585
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