In the past hypothermia was referred to as "freezing to death" or simply "exposure". This is misleading because many cases of hypothermia occur during the summer at temperatures well above freezing.
What is Hypothermia?
It is lowering the inner core temperature of the body. If uncorrected, the victim can die within a few hours. During the summer, it most frequently strikes fatigued people who get wet and then are exposed to the wind. As air blows over the body, it removes heat very quickly, especially if the body is wet. As the body temperature decreases, even a few degrees, it is undergoing hypothermia. If this continues, cold will reach the brain, depriving the victim of judgement and reasoning power.
Symptoms of Hypothermia
If you detect or suspect hypothermia in yourself or others take immediate steps to restore normal body temperature:
- Get the victim out of the wind and rain.
- Remove wet clothing and replace it with dry garments.
- Keep the victim dry.
- If the victim is conscious, give warm drinks and high energy foods.
- In advanced cases, warm the victim yourself by skin-to-skin contact inside a sleeping bag to retain heat. Victims of hypothermia cannot produce enough heat of their own.
Prevention is the best cure:
- Avoid getting wet
- Beware of the wind
- Dress warmly
- Cotton next to the skin may keep the body damp
- Wool clothing will insulate even when wet
If you encounter foul weather:
- Start a warming fire
- Set up camp as soon as possible (while you still have an energy reserve)
- Stay put
Even mild hypothermia symptoms demand immediate treatment!