Hypothermia happens when your core body temperature falls below normal, which can easily happen when you are exposed to cold winds or wetness. Your body automatically begins to shiver to re-warm itself. As your energy is used up to keep warm, you may reach a point where your body will be unable to re-warm itself. If left untreated, your body will gradually shut down and you can die.
You can avoid hypothermia if you guard against dehydration, fatigue, cold winds, and wet clothes. Be sure to:
- Dress warmly, in layers.
- Stay dry.
- Protect yourself from wind, rain, and snow. (This can be done most effectively by wearing clothes that block wind and moisture.)
- Eat high-energy snacks and drink plenty of water.
- Do not over-exert.
- Pack your survival kit, even on day hikes.
Please see the essentials and gear areas for more details on the above.
You can also guard against hypothermia by being aware of the symptoms and taking action early to treat them. Progressive symptoms include:
- Shivering. An early sign of hypothermia, shivering starts mildly, but can become more severe and finally convulsive before ceasing.
- Slurred speech.
- Loss of coordination. This might begin as difficulty tying one's shoelaces or zipping one's jacket, and eventually include stumbling or falling.
- Apathy (for example, the victim not taking care of his or her own needs).
- Irrational behavior.
If you recognize hypothermia in someone, take action. If the victim is unconscious, seek medical help immediately. If the victim is conscious, or after
medical help has been sent for for an unconscious victim:
- Move the victim to shelter. Be very gentle with unconscious victims — their hearts are fragile and sensitive to jarring.
- Remove wet clothes, and replace them with warm, dry garments.
- If the victim is alert enough to hold a cup, give warm, but not hot, liquids to drink. Sugary drinks, such as warm Tang or Jell-o, are especially helpful. Never give food or drink to an unconscious victim — he or she may choke.
- If the victim is conscious and able, moderate exercise such as walking will help to generate heat.
- If the victim is unconscious or unable to exercise, place the victim in a sleeping bag to help speed re-warming, and insulate the sleeping bag with a plastic sheet (or a tarp) above and a pad below.