One of the leading causes of death in the outdoors. This diagnosis is not one to minimize. It can sneak up on you and before you know it serious symptoms can begin to set in. Layering is imperative and understanding what the initial symptoms are to begin warming up.

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Hypothermia is a total body cooling, a bodily response which occurs when the right conditions are present such as wind exposure, wet conditions where the body becomes cold, coupled with exhaustion. Individuals usually shiver for a period of time, then loose consciousness. Core body can drop to life threatening levels. People can appear clinically dead however also can be revived when rewarmed properly and handled very carefully. When we think of hypothermia we often have an image of someone on a mountain trek on Denali or Mr Everest with ice crystals in their beard and bundled up. It is important to note that Florida is one of the highest states with hypothermia. One thinks of the elderly who have a hard time maintain body temps and then combine that with swimming or walking in the ocean hypothermic situations can kick in. Cold, wet and a slight breeze with a poor ability to keep warm makes the right conditions for a hypothermia scenario.

Common signs and symptoms of decreased body temperature

  1. 94 degree Fahrenheit or less
  2. Stumbling or wide gait
  3. Slurred speech one may sound as if they are intoxicated
  4. Faraway gaze
  5. Always suspect hypothermia when you see someone exhausted, cold and wet with a depressed body temperature.

Predisposing Factors of Hypothermia

  1. Skiing
  2. Hiking
  3. Trauma
  4. Stalled car in the winter months
  5. Alcohol and drugs can exacerbate hypothermia. Drugs and alcohol can suppress shivering. Shivering acts as a generator to increase body temps.
  6. Coffee and Hot chocolate can EXACERBATE hypothermia due to their mild vasoconstrictor effects. Plus it decrease shivering which is important to generate heat. It is great for a psychological boost and I advise it in just being cold. We are specifically talking about a pre-hypothermic state. That is when it is contraindicated.
  7. Becoming wet can exacerbate hypothermia
  8. Nutritional deprivation
  9. Sugar depletion from the body will exacerbate hypothermia
  10. History of Endocrine disease, diabetes can predispose someone to be hypothermic quicker.

Hypothermia Symptoms

Initial symptoms when still conscious are fatigue, slurred speech, poor decision making, muscle weakness, shivering and a “Im all right “ attitude. Rapid deterioration is not uncommon with no respiration, fixed and dilated pupils, cold, stiff and blue.

Hypothermia causes volume depletion which also inhibits the bodies mechanism to liver which in turn inhibits and decreases temperature. So sugar and fluids must be replaced.

Hypothermia Treatment in the outdoors

If an individual is conscious and you are aware they are showing initial signs of hypothermia then pushing fluids and warm drinks should be fine. Warm sweet drinks at this stage will be beneficial and coffee should not be a factor. IF HYPOTHERMIA IS ADVANCING DO NOT PUSH CAFFEINE OR ALCOHOL.  You need to keep them dry and insulated. Once agin shivering is a great way of rewarming the body.

Unconscious individuals great care must be taken in not moving them or jostling them. Inducing a heart arrhythmia can occur by sudden movements. When severe hypothermia sets in life threatening heart arrhythmias can occur

  1. Handle these individuals with care as if you packing fine china.
  2. Make sure their airway is open
  3. NO CPR until the individual is in the car or helicopter. Unless in dire situation and cannot transport.
  4. Apply heat packs, bottles or heat pads to the bottom of their feet and palms of their hands.
  5. Remember this will feel counter intuitive but try not to stop the shivering when in the field as that is your best bet for rewarming core body temperature. Shivering is equal to about 4-5 100 watt light bulbs in generating heat.
  6. Other methods to generate heat, build a fire, use sleeping bags, mylar blankets and reflective space blankets to redirect heat.
  7. Remove wet clothing and replace when possible
  8. Heated air for the person to breathe is another good way to increase warmth. ( See Video )
  9. Warm drinks NO Caffeine.
  10. Maximize any insulation