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How to handle hypothermia

We’re deep into winter now. And the snowfields are open again.

So it’s a good time to think about how we would help someone suffering from extreme cold, also known as hypothermia. (Hypo means “low”, remember O rhymes with LOW.)

Your body is always producing heat. But if it starts losing heat faster than it can produce it, then you will go into hypothermia, which is when your body temperature drops below 35c. This can occur if you were lost in the snow for example or spent a long time in icy cold water.

Some of the signs that you or someone else is going into hypothermia include:

  • Uncontrolled and excessive shivering (which can stop as the condition worsens)

  • Slow or shallow breathing, with a weak pulse

  • Slurred speech or mumbling

  • Clumsiness, lack of co-ordination

  • Memory loss, mental confusion

  • Drowsiness, loss of energy, ultimately leading to loss of consciousness

The thing you need to do with hypothermia is think and act fast, but don’t try to warm the person up too quickly.

First, move them into a warm environment if possible or insulate or isolate them from the source of cold. If they are laying on the snow, put something under them. Keep them out of the wind and wrap their head & neck to keep in body warmth.

If possible, remove any wet clothing and replace with warm dry clothing or blankets etc.

Start warming their body gradually focussing on the chest, head and groin. A heater is great but don’t have it on too hot. A hot water bottle or chemical hot pack clutched to the chest is good provided it’s wrapped in a towel.

Provide warm, sweet but NON-ALCOHOLIC drinks. (Forget the brandy or whiskey, that’s for the cartoons!)

Monitor closely, and if needed apply CPR or call 000 if the person deteriorates or is in bad condition. Stay with them, monitoring them until their body temperature rises and they feel better. When possible get them examined by a doctor for any long-term damage or issues.


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