Hypothermia / Silent Killer of the outdoors
Hypothermia develops when the body’s production of heat cannot keep up with that lost to the environment. Body temperature is normally about 37 C. Hypothermia can set in when the internal body temperature drops below 35 C. Any further drop in body temperature becomes extremely dangerous.
Unfortunately, to most people hypothermia is considered to be only a wintertime condition. This is far from correct, although its onset may be more dramatic when the weather is cold. Given the right mixture of conditions, the process can result just as assuredly at seemingly harmless temperatures, although it might take longer to manifest itself. However, once started, the process can accelerate into the critical stages quite rapidly. For this reason, hypothermia must always be reckoned with at any time of the year.
Most vulnerable are children, the elderly, dieters, very slim persons, persons at high altitudes and persons who are physically exhausted.
Can be much like drunkenness. Watch out for:
- Feeling of extreme cold with uncontrollable shivering.
- Tiredness and apathy.
- Lagging behind the group, with shuffling or stumbling walk.
- Pale colour of skin.
- Slurring of speech.
- Lack of co-ordination of body movements.
- Aggressive and / or uncooperative behaviour.
- At an advanced stage : amnesia, irrationality, incoherence, partial consciousness and / or coma.
Treatment should commence as early as possible after the first symptoms are noticed. In the field advance hypothermia is extremely difficult to control.
- Obtain shelter from elements if possible, especially wind.
- Remove clothing if wet and wrap up patient in warm dry garments and / or place in a sleeping bag next to one or more human companions for maximum warmth.
- Give hot sweetened drinks, together with high energy foods (eg chocolate)
- If possible, build a fire.
- DO NOT give alcohol
- DO NOT handle the patient roughly or massage extremities
- If condition is mild, patient must keep up light exercise (walking about or marking time) in order to build up heat. If condition is advanced the patient is best not moved at all. Help must then be sought. If breathing fails give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Do not let patient fall asleep.
Because hypothermia is so easily prevented, no one should really become a victim. Take precautions before getting into trouble. Put on your rain gear before you get wet. Put on extra clothing before you get cold. Wetness and cold, especially if there is a wind, are the chief factors involved in the onset of hypothermia. Be adequately prepared for sudden weather changes, even on short walks. During a thunderstorm the temperature can drop by as much as 10 C.
- Use only the best quality wind and water proof rain suit, preferably with hood and trousers.
- Dress in layers of light clothing, woollen if possible, to maintain the best bodily insulation. Wear too much rather than too little. Avoid cottons, especially jeans or corduroy.
- About half of all body heat is lost from the head, neck and hands. Wear a woollen hat and scarf and waterproof mittens or gloves. In an emergency, a spare pair of socks make useful “gloves”.
- Always carry a lightweight space blanket. This can be a life-saver.
- If the weather deteriorates, seek whatever shelter you can, especially from wind. Avoid exhausting yourself. It is better to “sit-out” the elements than to fight them.
- Eat high energy foods to “fuel” the body in order that it can convert this to heat. Snack or chocolate bars are best.
- Avoid dehydration. Fluid loss reduces your blood volume. Drink hot beverages if possible. Do not use alcohol, or coffee.
Sunstroke / Heat Exhaustion (hyperthermia)
Dehydration in very hot weather can lead to heat exhaustion. Unfit persons are often more likely to be affected, so hike within your capabilities in hot weather to avoid over-exertion.
- Flushed face with hot, dry skin.
- Headache and / or dizziness.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Nausea with possible vomiting.
- Irritability and / or loss of reasoning.
- Muscle and abdominal cramps.
Death can occur if timely action is not taken.
- At the first signs of heat exhaustion stop walking, place the patient in a shaded spot, or create shade artificially. Remove or loosen all clothing, sprinkle the body with water and fan to induce a cooling effect.
- Encourage the patient to sip water moderately.
- Wear clothing to suit the occasion, cool and light in colour. Protect as much of the body area as possible from the sun’s rays.
- Wear a hat with a brim sufficiently large enough to protect the neck and face.
- Always carry sufficient water on dry stretches. Drink frequently but sparingly. Too much water can be as dangerous as too little.
- When water is encountered, sluice down as much of the body area as is practicable. Wet your hat before replacing on your head.
- Do not exceed your physical capabilities. Rest frequently in a cool, shady spot or create your own shade by means of a space blanket.
- If you are inclined to heat problems, carry a lightweight umbrella and walk in the shade whenever you wish – this works like a charm!
If possible, kill the snake for identity purposes, but don’t take risks or waste time.
- Keep calm and stay still.
- Wrap a broad crepe bandage over the affected area. Towels or torn-up clothing can also be used. (see fig 1).
- The bandage should be firmly but not tightly applied. Do not waste time taking off clothes. Extra movement will encourage venom spread (see fig 2)
- Bandage the whole limb (see fig 3)
- Bind a splint to the limb to keep it immobile (see fig 4)
- If possible, carry out the patient. If alone, walk slowly (see fig 5)