Hypothermia presents one of nature’s greatest dangers. Even just among America’s homeless, thousands die from exposure to the freezing elements. Nobody should face the cold unprepared.
By Alex Coyne, a contributing author of SurvivalCache and SHTFBlog.com
Here are some of the facts behind hypothermia, and some more about what you can do to handle it.
#1: Defining hypothermia.
Hypothermia literally means “below heat”, and it’s what happens when the body’s temperature drops below 35°C. This means that your organs will eventually begin shutting down due to the cold. Once tissue starts freezing, what you’re dealing with is frostbite, the nasty cousin of hypothermia. Its opposite is hyperthermia, or what happens when the body overheats.
#2: What is frostbite?
The symptoms of frostbite include loss of feeling and discoloration of the skin: This can be blue, red or white, so keep in mind that any unnatural discoloration is generally a bad sign which can point to issues in circulation. Yes, permanent damage or the loss of limbs and digits becomes a real danger here: Once affected by frostbite, your priority is to warm up the affected areas gradually though as soon as possible. Think of frostbite like freezer burn.
#3: Just how cold…?
There are several factors involved with contracting hypothermia: Cold, air and exposure time are just some of them. Here’s a handy chart from the US National Weather Service showing the temperature, wind and time related to both hypothermia and frostbite, just in case you were wondering.
#4: Recognizing the symptoms.
Hypothermia is classified in three stages: Mild, moderate and severe. The symptoms of hypothermia start off slow with shivering – the body’s natural way of trying to warm itself up – slight nausea, drowsiness and confusion, but can eventually turn to much more severe versions thereof. Apathy and slurred speech eventually sets in, and inevitably the sufferer will tire out, fall asleep and into a deep coma and die.
#5: Alcohol will not help.
Do you know anyone who has a brandy to warm themselves up, usually on a camping trip? In the event of hypothermia, it turns out that’s one of the most dangerous things you could possibly do. Contrary to popular belief – yes, this is complete BS – alcohol will not warm you up. What alcohol really does is dilate the blood vessels, making you only feel warmer while you’re losing most of the heat through your skin. It does more harm than good, so don’t do it.
Related: Ten Ways to Survive the Winter Cold
#6: Preparing beforehand.
The best medicine is prevention. When you’re preparing for a trip (or stocking up your grab-and-go bags), make sure you pack essentials like warm, insulated gloves. It’s also worth investing in proper thermal wear, which can be expensive, but you’ll surely thank yourself if you’re stuck somewhere in the cold. Also prepare by checking out the weather forecast before heading out: Is there any bad weather in the cards?
#7: You can’t, and shouldn’t, work it off.
It’s another common myth that exercise will get rid of hypothermia entirely, so you can just “exercise it out” or “walk it off” and you’ll be fine. Like most myths, there’s more harm than good to this one as hypothermia puts intense strain on the heart. Suddenly exercising can cause your body to shut down if you are already in an advanced state of hypothermia. The same applies to throwing someone with hypothermia into a hot bath (or, for that matter, someone with a fever into a cold one): The resulting stress on the heart can cause a heart attack.
#8: Warming up gradually.
Due to the stress hypothermia places on the body (and the ice crystals that form in the tissue in the case of frostbite), the key to getting rid of either is to warm the patient up gradually, not quickly. Getting them out of wet, cold clothes and covering them with a warm blanket or clothes is step one, and much less dangerous than the common method that certainly might kill someone.
#9: The enemy of cold.
Know how to make a fire even in a cold or ice-covered climate, as it might be the quickest way to avoid getting hypothermia. (Remember: Cold doesn’t always come in the form of ice, and both icy wind and cold water can induce hypothermia just as quickly.) Many campers carry a flask of hot tea or coffee for keeping the cold away in the mornings, and – when possible – it’s highly recommended.
Check Out: Emergency Foods from Wild Plants
#10: Increasing your tolerance for cold.
Controlled exposure to the cold will eventually increase the body’s tolerance levels if done over a long period of time. This is true for people like Wim Hof, better known as “The Iceman” and the Guinness World Record holder for the longest time immersed in ice – a total of one hour and fifty-two minutes. (That doesn’t sound like too much until you actually try it.) There’s nothing superhuman about it, though: Wim (and many others like him) insist that their abilities are due to practice and practice alone.
Download Smart Thermometer from the Google Play Store, Fingerprint Thermometer from PreApps.com, Free Digital Temperature from the App Store or The Thermometer App and make sure you know just how cold it is outside.
Have you experienced frostbite or hypothermia while hiking, swimming or camping? Tell us your story in the comments.