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How To Prevent Hypothermia

By Forest Ang

...My First Hand Account...........

My Personal Experience

At 2187 m, Mount Tahan of Malaysia was not really cold as compared to the snowy mountains of Nepal. But with wind and rain, my body temperature dropped speedily within minutes. I was soaked with sweat and rain water when I reached the summit. It was windy and cold. My body's strategies of keeping warm - shivering, quivering and all the bumps couldn't trap the heat lost. I could felt the numbness on my fingers and toes. I thought it was just normal coldness. It was only after I settled into the tent and with warm clothing that my heart felt heavy and cold. Within seconds, my heart felt like an ice. Yes, a block of ice in my cold heart! Although my body and skin were warm, my heart was as cold as ice. My chest was warm too. I still have my senses. I felt uncomfortable. I felt like dying. I felt the icy heart radiating COLDNESS out. An ice in the heart - that was my experience on hypothermia. Don't try it.

Second Account

Don't ever think that only chilling coldness from high altitude like the high mountain can cause hypothermia. There was another incident that happened on a lake. A friend could not resist riding on a water scooter. He could not balance himself on the water scooter and each time he started the engine...whoooop...he fell and soaked to the skin. It was drizzling. There were breezes but no strong wind like my first experience at Mount Tahan. After many trying, he gave up and took a shower. He was alright. He had his warmth clothing on. Then he had chest pain. He had difficulty breathing. He just had "heavy" heart. Although he didn't felt the ice-cold heart like me, he indeed had succumbed to mild hypothermia. So, my friend be forewarned about the danger of hypothermia.

Hypothermia Prevention

Hypothermia is the inability of our body to keep itself warm, generally because of prolonged exposure to cold weather. Hiking generates body heat, so hikers can walk along comfortably without even realizing just how cold it is. In mild weather, when you stop - even if only for five minutes - you have to put on extra clothes and a hat immediately. The combination of chilled sweat and low air temperature is a recipe for hypothermia. Covering and uncovering your head is the quickest and most effective way to control your body temperature. In cold weather, keep your hat handy. Not only does your rain gear shut out rain, it also protects you from wind and holds in your body heat. Make sure you fuel your body with snack often to keep up your energy. People have actually died lying next to a backpack full of warm clothes because they did not recognize their condition early enough. The time to stop hypothermia is before it starts. In cold, wet conditions, you'll need to constantly monitor yourself. The goal is to walk at a sustainable pace at a comfortable temperature. Forget about pushing yourself to the limit. Slow and steady is the key here. You want to work up some heat, but not so much that you drown in sweat and wore yourself out. If you stop for too many rest breaks, you'll quickly get cold. Stop before the problem starts. Hypothermia is sneaky. It creeps up on a victim a little at a time, offering plenty of chances to compound the problem with mistakes and misjudgments. The problem can be exacerbated by peer pressure to keep up and be strong. Hypothermia, however, is not a matter of strength or willpower. Never encourage a hypothermia victim to "just hike a little longer." Too often, hikers push on, thinking that they'll be okay if they keep working up a sweat. In reality, they are getting colder and colder - and more and more exhausted. They don't realize the danger because their exertion makes them feel warmer. However, as soon as they stop, hypothermia can incapacitate them within minutes.

Hypothermia Symptoms

Shivering, quivering and goose bumps are our body normal heat-regulating strategies to control heat loss. But prolonged shivering should never be ignored - it is a sign that your body is working overtime to maintain its temperature. If your body is unable to maintain its temperature, it falls into the early stages of hypothermia. Victim may complain of feeling cold or tired, and he may seem slow or numbness on the fingers and toes. As temperature continues to drop, the symptoms increase in severity. Speech is thick and slurred. The victim may be irrational and may resist help, possibly violently. At this stage, the victim may not even be aware that he is in danger; instead of feeling consciously cold, he may simply feel drowsy. Shivering stops, replaced by a muscular rigidity. The skin is blue and pupils are dilated. Vision failure is common. Once the body temperature drops below about 92 degrees, the victim cannot warm himself by internal means. Without intervention, his temperature, blood pressure, and pulse will continue to drop, leading to the loss of reflexes and consciousness, an erratic heartbeat, "icy heart" and finally, coma and death.

Hypothermia Tips

  1. Assess the situation, ask other hikers for help.
  2. Concentrate on stopping heat loss. Victim cannot warm himself.
  3. Get victim into a warm protected area. Put up tent and ground mat.
  4. Make sure victim has a dry warm hat. Cover feet with dry socks.
  5. Place heat packs in armpits and groin.
  6. Give victim warm ginger drink.
  7. Do not give alcohol and drinks with caffeine.
  8. Keep the victim awake.
  9. Handle with care. In the late stages of hypothermia, the heart muscle is actually chilled and any shock or jolting could cause it to arrest.
Through the years in the outdoor, I have learnt that ginger was an effective remedy for hypothermia. You can read more about it at my website.

Take care!

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