How to Avoid Death from Hypothermia
Nearly 700 people in the United States die each year from hypothermia [source: Mayo Clinic]. Hypothermia is a silent killer because once your body temperature drops below 95 degrees, you lose awareness of the cold and become disoriented because less oxygen reaches the brain. For that reason, take special precautions if you're alone in the cold. You may not be aware that your body is in peril.
Groups of people should look after each other for the signs of hypothermia discussed in the previous section. If someone does appear hypothermic, there are a number of things that you can do to prevent that person from dying. In mild to moderate cases, the body can re-warm at a rate of 3.6 degrees per hour.
To start that warming process, first move into shelter. If there is nowhere to go indoors, at least move the person out of the wind, since wind can speed up hypothermia. Remove any wet clothing and replace them with dry blankets or even newspaper.
For people with mild or moderate hypothermia, some food and beverages may be helpful. Warm, sweet liquids, such as diluted gelatin mix or hot chocolate will give the body quick energy boosts to help it produce heat. Proteins, fats and carbohydrates in the form of trail mix and granola can also stimulate the metabolism. Do not give them alcohol or caffeine.
In more severe cases, getting a person out of any wet clothes and into a hypothermic wrap is essential. There should be several layers of insulation between the wrap and the cold ground. A hypothermic wrap covers every part of the body with as few open spaces as possible. A sleeping bag or multiple blankets can serve as hypothermic wraps, as long as the person is completely protected from the cold.
Additionally, extra clothing or blankets should be applied to the neck, groin, armpits and chest to protect major arteries. Sharing body heat by removing your clothes and getting into the wrap with the person may also prove beneficial, except in very severe cases. Also, do not apply heat directly to the skin or give the person a massage because it can circulate the colder blood near the skin to the core, shocking the body.
CPR is another option if a hypothermic person's skin has turned blue, and you can't feel a pulse. But only do this if you are properly trained. If you stimulate the body too much with CPR, it can overexcite the heart and lead to cardiac arrest.
If possible, call 911 to get someone with severe hypothermia to a hospital. A doctor may hook up a person with hypothermia to an IV to put warming fluids directly into the body. He or she may also perform a procedure called hemodialysis, which takes the patient's blood out of the body, runs it through a warming mechanism, and returns it.
For more information on protecting against cold weather calamity, go to the links below.
More Great Links
- Brown, Stanley P.; Miller, Wayne C.; and Eason, Jane M. "Exercise Physiology: Basis of Human Movement in Health and Disease." Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2006. (March 13, 2008) http://books.google.com/books?id=T-s3OAZdlhsC
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Winter Weather: Hypothermia." Updated Dec. 7, 2007. (March 12, 2008) http://www.emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe/hypothermia.asp
- Curtis, Rick. "Outdoor Action Guide to Hypothermia and Cold Weather Injuries." Princeton University. (March 12, 2008) http://www.princeton.edu/~oa/safety/hypocold.shtml
- Discovery Channel. "Out in the Cold? Avoiding Hypothermia." (March 12, 2008) http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence/survival/ guide/10things/hypothermia.html
- Mayo Clinic. "Hypothermia." Updated June 8, 2007. (March 12, 2008) http://www.mayoclinic.com/print/hypothermia/ DS00333/DSECTION=all&METHOD=print
- MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. "Hypothermia." Update Jan. 16, 2007. (March 12, 2008) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000038.htm
- Piantadosi, Claude A. "The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments." Oxford University Press US. 2003. (March 12, 2008) http://books.google.com/books?id=aG4EbXctp6IC