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Hypothermia Symptoms - What to Watch For

By touring - Posted on 11 July 2010

Hypothermia Symptoms - What to Watch For

I've been on many Canadian adventures in all different seasons. I know that cold weather can kill but I've come to learn that it can strike at any time, even in summer with the sun shining bright! Before you head out into the wild, you need to familiarize yourself with and know how to deal with them.

Hypothermia is a serious threat to any hiker, or outdoors-person since it's an unassuming condition that can sneak up without warning. Even at the height of summer, trekkers can encounter changing weather conditions that can cause people to lose so much heat, their core body temperature drops to dangerous levels.

Hikers are prone to hypothermia in Canada regardless of the air-temperature. Rain and most lakes and rivers are below 12 C (54 F) so when the dampness soaks into clothing and the wind starts to blow, the evaporating moisture can be quickly draw the heat out of a person.

It's hard to think about dying from exposure when it's sunny outside. But if you get wet and the wind starts to blow, you need to take precautions against exposure. Removing any wet clothing and getting protection from the wind is a good first step.

If it's not possible to prevent getting wet (i.e. during a rain storm or you're on the water), it's important to wear a wind-proof jacket to lessen the amount of heat loss.

On your journey, if you suffer an unexpected delayed or even an accident, you'll not only have to contend with a possible injury but also the dropping air-temperature as evening and night descend. What most people forget is that hypothermia symptoms can happen quickly and being prepared for them is important for survival.

occurs when the core body temperature drops so low, the normal means of generating body heat fails. The condition starts slowly and usually goes unrecognized.

Mild Hypothermia Symptoms

  1. Uncontrolled shivering as the body tries to produce heat.
  2. Constricted blood flow to the limbs so the body can keep the vital organs warm in the core. Your feet, legs, hands and arms will become cold.

Dealing with Mild Hypothermia

  • Remove wet clothing and put on dry layers. As long as you're wet, you'll never be able to produce enough heat to keep your body warm. And the wind just makes the heat loss even greater.
  • Get close to an external heat source such as a fire, go indoors or cuddle up to another warm hiker.
  • Do not rub the surface of the body as this will draw blood into the cold extremities.
  • Give warm drinks but nothing scalding hot. Cold skin devoid of blood is easy to burn. Do not give alcoholic drinks either since these can dilate blood-vessels. Do not give caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea or cocoa as these affect the heart rate.
  • If there's no shelter or heat source around, GET MOVING AGAIN so muscles start generating heat. Put on dry clothing, gather enough determination and start jogging. You'll become you are own heat source that will prevent you from suffering more serious effects of the cold.

Severe Hypothermia Symptoms

If someone is suffering from severe hypothermia, they have lost their ability to generate their own heat. This is a life-threatening condition as they can quickly go downhill from this point.

  1. Shivering stops as the body stiffens.
  2. Loss of coordination, slurred speech and mental confusion. Your mind becomes cloudy and confused and your judgment becomes irrational.
  3. You feel drowsy & exhausted since your body can no longer function at lower temperatures.
  4. Skin is cold as there is no blood flowing near the surface.
  5. Toes and fingers will probably be suffering from at this point. If the person is rescued, they'll probably lose these digits.

Dealing with Severe Hypothermia

  • Call 911 for emergency services. Victims can no longer generate heat themselves and if they are rescued in time, emergency personnel is required to deal with complications as they warm.
  • Do not leave the victim wrapped in a blanket on their own. The person has lost the ability to generate their own body heat and will not recover without an external heat source.
  • Handle the person very gently and remove wet clothing. Provide direct skin-to-skin contact under warm blankets. Get them close to an external heat source such as a fire, indoors or next to a fellow warm hiker.
  • Do not rub the surface of the body as this will draw blood into the cold extremities.
  • Keep them immobile. Getting them active will move warm blood from their core into their cold extremities with dire consequences.
  • They will be too cold to drink or to eat so direct warm air (or steam from a kettle) towards them so they can breath in the warmth and heat themselves from the inside.
  • Keep them stationary as they probably will lose some toes or fingers due to frostbite.

The best way to avoid hypothermia is to come prepared for the wind, rain & cold. Proper rain gear acts as a wind break to keep the person dry and to slow the evaporation process.

Preparing for the cold means dressing in layers which can be added or removed as the temperature dictates. Remember that losing body heat is a silent process. On your next Canadian adventure, watch for hypothermia symptoms and come prepared for this silent but deadly killer.

Get more insider tips on Canadian Adventures at Scenic Travel Canada.

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