Monday, December 18, 2006
Recognizing symptoms of hypothermia
Hearing the news yesterday about Kelly James, who died on Mount Hood (Full Story), I was reminded of my days in EMT training. I was also reminded of how little experience I've had treating cold related injuries because I worked in Atlanta. It's a rare year when we see more than a quarter-inch of snow.
I thought it might be a good time to refresh my memory, and yours, on how to spot hypothermia.
First of all, it's important to remember that you don't have to be stranded on a mountainside to get hypothermia, which strictly speaking is defined as a core body temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit or below. The condition is considered life-threatening at temperatures of 90 or below. But if you're very young or very old, you could have problems just being out in the cold weather. The biggest indicator of hypothermia is confusion.
The first thing to go as your body loses heat is your brain function. In fact, I read yesterday that once your body temperature drops below 95 degrees, for each additional degree of temperature loss, you also lose about 4 percent of your brain's processing power.
Other symptoms... If you start to slur your speech, feel very fatigued or lethargic or start breathing very slowly, you should try to get medical attention immediately.
If you're concerned that a loved one may be affected, the best thing to do is get him or her inside, out of the cold, and take off any wet clothes. Once you're inside, you can start the re-warming process, but be very careful to do it slowly... Blankets and hot tea will get you started, but it's a good idea to call for medical help.
There's a saying in the medical field: "You're not dead until you're warm and dead." Exposure to extreme cold can actually slow your heart and metabolic rates so much that they're virtually undetectable. With all your processes practically standing still, it's also possible to survive a longer time without breathing. If you come upon someone in this condition, you should begin CPR and rescue breathing immediately, and call 911 for help.
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