Hypothermia

By: Aamarpali Puri

Hypothermia means losing heat faster than one’s body can produce it, causing a drop in (inner) body temperature. If body is immersed under cold water, heat escapes from the body thus speeding up hypothermia. Human being need cloths to keep them warm unlike other warm-blooded animals that have a layer of hair to keep them warm. Without that extra layer of clothing, more heat escapes from the body than the body can produce. Extended exposure to cold temperatures or a cool, damp environment causes Hypothermia. It leads to decrease in body temperature, impaired consciousness, and slurred speech, very slow rate of breathing, fatigue, lethargy, confusion, or disorientation. The affected person should be kept warm and dry indoors. Elderly, intoxicated or very young people are vulnerable.

  • Advanced age. People aged 65 and older are especially vulnerable because they usually have other illnesses or take medications that can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
  • Very young age. Children usually lose heat faster than adults do. Children have a larger head-to-body ratio than adults do, making them more prone to heat loss through the head. Infants may have a special problem with the cold because they have less efficient mechanisms for generating heat.
  • Alcohol and drug use. Alcohol may make your body feel warm inside, but it lowers your body’s ability to retain heat. It keeps our blood vessels dilated, restrict your shivering response, impair your judgment and alter awareness of weather conditions.
  • Certain medical conditions. Some health disorders affect the body’s ability to respond to cold or to produce heat. Examples include untreated under active thyroid (hypothyroidism), stroke, severe arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, trauma, spinal cord injuries, burns, blood vessel or nerve disorders that affect sensation in your extremities (for example, peripheral neuropathy in people with diabetes), dehydration and any condition that limits activity or restrains the normal flow of blood.

Some valuable tips to avoid hypothermia:

  • Eat properly with plenty of carbohydrates and fats for energy and warmth.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Get enough sleep. Being well rested will make you feel energized and positive.
  • Remove any wet clothes immediately. They cause accelerated heat loss and impair movement.
  • Insulate well, particularly the head and neck as these are the areas which lose the most heat the quickest.

Prevention
Avoid alcohol consumption and the use of illegal substances should be stopped because these increase the risk of hypothermia. Since alcohol lowers the body’s resistance to cold water, it greatly increases the effect of torso reflex (the unexpected blast of cold water causing an automatic gasp for air) by increasing the metabolic rate and demand for oxygen in frigid water. As the alcohol level in a person’s body increases, coordination abilities decrease.

Before stepping out into cold air, remember the advice that follows with the simple acronym COLD:

  • C for cover. Wear a hat or other protective covering to prevent body heat from escaping from your head, face and neck. Cover your hands with mittens instead of gloves. Mittens are more effective than gloves because mittens keep your fingers in closer contact with one another.
  • O for overexertion. Avoid activities that would cause you to sweat a lot. The combination of wet clothing and cold weather can give you chills.
  • L for layers. Wear loose fitting, layered, lightweight clothing. Outer clothing made of tightly woven, water-repellent material is best for wind protection. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers hold more body heat than cotton does.
  • D for dry. Stay as dry as possible. In the winter, pay special attention to places where snow can enter, such as in loose mittens or snow boots.

References:

  1. http://www.emprc.org/jan98/chill.html.
  2. http://www.climbing-high.com/hypothermia.html.
  3. http://www.seagrant.umn.edu/coastal_communities/hypothermia.

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