Hypothermia Know The Signs

Sunday, November 19, 2006 | 6:00pm

During the fall and winter months, Tennesseans all across the state will take to the outdoors to enjoy their sport. Whether it’s hunting, fishing, bird watching, or just hiking, fall and winter means the arrival of colder temperatures that may lead people to encounter a condition that can have serious if not fatal results. This condition is hypothermia.

Hypothermia is when the body loses heat faster than it produces it, causing a lowering of the body’s inner temperature. Hypothermia is usually classified into two types: chronic and acute.

Chronic hypothermia occurs over a long period of time. It results from exposure to wind and wetness combined with exhaustion. A victim of hypothermia may become blue-gray in color. Violent shivering develops which may give way to muscle spasms and even loss of use of the arms and legs. Confusion and drunken behavior also may indicate a person could be hypothermic.

To protect yourself from chronic hypothermia, STAY WARM AND DRY!! Put on rain gear before it rains. Wear several different layers of clothes that can be added or removed as the situation warrants. Wool clothing can help considerably because wool traps body heat even when wet. Know the effects wind has on cold weather. You may be in 40-degree weather with the sun shining, but a 10 mph wind lowers the temperature to 28 degrees and a 20 mph wind lowers it to 18 degrees.

Acute hypothermia is the type waterfowl hunters and fishermen might encounter. Acute hypothermia occurs when one falls into cold water. Life expectancy is greatly reduced, but there are ways to increase the chances of survival. When on the water, always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) because it helps to insulate against heat loss. Don’t discard clothing; it helps to trap the body’s heat. Try not to thrash around, because it only leads to exhaustion and swirling water takes heat from the body more rapidly than still water. To conserve heat a person should draw their knees to their chest and wrap their arms around the legs in what is called the self-huddle. The best survival technique is for a group in the water to huddle together with arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders.

Treatment for hypothermia means getting heat back to the body and raising the inner temperature. Get dry and warm as soon as you can. When a fire can be built, start one right away. Stay by the fire until someone comes for you or until you are thoroughly dry and know you can reach shelter unassisted. Drink lots of warm liquids. NEVER DRINK ALCOHOL TO TREAT HYPOTHERMIA. The advanced stages of hypothermia are very dangerous and treatment should be done only by doctors.

TWRA recommends that all Tennesseans should take a first aid class before going afield to learn how to take care of the first stages of hypothermia and other life threatening situations. Hypothermia is a killer, but it can be prevented if you know its causes and use your head to avoid them.

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