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Into the Outdoors: Hypothermia

First of all, here’s hoping everyone had a great Christmas. We have been having a pretty easy time of it weather-wise. That appears about to change. While I have had second-degree frostbite, I have never had hypothermia. Because many outdoor folks find themselves out in the cold, that will be the focus of this week’s column.

As this is being written, the forecast is calling for a rather extensive period of intense cold. At this time of year, you never really know from one day to the next, what it's going to be like. Even in a heated shanty, it's a problem for me, as I like to venture forth from the warmth. Over the years, I have developed a system of protection from the cold, which is, at least, somewhat effective. Felt-lined boots and Zippo hand warmers have really helped me out. Cold is still, however, a real problem. The old bones just can't seem to take it like they used to.

Cold can, however, be more than just an inconvenience. It can be serious, even life-threatening. Hypothermia is a serious medical condition. A while back, the Game Commission issued some information on how to avoid and recognize it. Here is an excerpt from their news release on the subject. The info comes from Keith Snyder.

“Anyone heading afield for late fall and winter hunting and trapping seasons should be aware of the threat of hypothermia and how to combat it. Hypothermia occurs when exposure to the wind, cold, and wetness drain heat from the body faster than it can be produced.

"Extreme cold is not required for hypothermia to develop, and most cases occur when the air temperature is between 30 and 50 degrees. The best way to combat hypothermia is to dress properly and avoid getting wet.”

Non-absorbent, wicking long underwear of polypropylene or a similar synthetic base layer, covered by a layer of wool or other insulating material, such as fleece, followed by a breathable waterproof outer shell would be good in most wet-weather situations. The rain gear can be carried in a small pack but should be put on before the other clothes become wet because once a person gets wet, he or she risks hypothermia. A warm hat and gloves also help to prevent heat loss.

"Wet clothing should be exchanged for dry clothing as soon as possible, especially if it is windy,” Snyder said. “Getting out of the wind and rain promptly can mean the difference between a safe outing and a life-threatening ordeal.”

One of the most important defenses against hypothermia is the recognition and treatment of early symptoms. Uncontrolled shivering is the first signal of the onset of hypothermia. It also is one of the few symptoms the victim may recognize.

As hypothermia sets in, slurred speech, frequent stumbling, loss of manual dexterity, memory lapses, exhaustion, and drowsiness occur.

Often a victim will not notice these signs, so hunting partners should watch each other when wind, water, or cold creates the potential for hypothermia.

“It is wise to get out of the wind and cold, remove wet clothing, and warm the body before hypothermia sets in,” Snyder said. “Once the telltale symptoms are recognized, these steps are absolutely critical: Stop, take shelter, remove wet clothes and warm the body.”

If only mild impairment is evident, warm drinks and dry clothes will probably solve the problem. High-energy foods can help provide fuel for metabolic heat production. Powdered sweetened gelatin mixed with warm water makes a high-energy emergency drink. A warming fire or another heat source can help speed the recovery. Wrapping in a blanket or crawling into a sleeping bag, if available, also will speed recovery.

In advanced cases of hypothermia, drowsiness may lead to unconsciousness and, ultimately, death, unless action is taken to provide warmth. In these cases, emergency medical treatment is needed.

I hope you find this information useful. Be careful out there. I need all of my readers.


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