5 Things to Know About Hypothermia

Don't let hypothermia ruin your next hike. Learn the facts of this potentially life-threatening condition, including how you can prevent it.

Hypothermia is no joke. It’s a dangerous condition that can creep up on anyone that spends time outside. 

As winter approaches, it’s important to arm yourself with the knowledge of how hypothermia occurs and what to do if you suspect someone may be at risk for developing it. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at 5 things that you need to know about hypothermia so that you can protect yourself in those cold months ahead!

1. Hypothermia is a Life-Threatening Condition

Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition that can be caused by prolonged exposure to cold. This includes being outside in the winter, or even spending time outside at night during other times of the year without adequate protection from the cold temperatures.

The symptoms of hypothermia are varied and depend on how severe it’s become, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to recognizing it. 

Instead, you’ll need to know how hypothermia develops and what treatments are available so that you can respond appropriately if the situation arises.

2. Hypothermia Can Happen At Any Time of Year

One of the biggest misconceptions about hypothermia is that it only occurs in winter. In reality, it can happen anytime there’s prolonged cold exposure and a drop in core body temperature below 95°F (35°C). 

This means that you could even develop hypothermia during those warm summer months if you don’t take care. In fact, hypothermia is known to happen in some particularly warm places, including in Florida and other similar locales.

3. Hypothermia Causes the Umbles

One of the first signs that someone may be developing hypothermia is a set of symptoms known as “umbles”. These include abnormal behavior, confusion and shivering, or, in other words, grumbles, fumbles, tumbles—you get the point.

These are some very early warning signs that you should take seriously if they show up in yourself or others around you who are outdoors for an extended period of time. 

If you notice these symptoms, it’s imperative that you get the person some help as soon as possible. While outside or in a remote setting, this might mean getting the person in warm, dry clothing and out of the cold. Doing so allows one’s body to rewarm itself and fight off hypothermia.

4. Hypothermia Requires Immediate Rewarming

Demonstration from Wild Med Adventures of the proper technique for a hypothermic wrap to treat a patient with hypothermia.

One of the most common mistakes made by those who suspect someone is developing hypothermia is not responding quickly and appropriately. 

The general recommendation for rewarming a person with this condition, specifically when it’s moderate or severe, is to get them into warm, dry clothing and out of the elements. 

In the backcountry, this usually means helping the individual out of their wet gear and into warm, dry insulating layers. 

Many people with severe hypothermia also need to be placed in a so-called hypothermic wrap, which is a method of creating a small, mobile, and well-insulated shelter to help someone get warm while outside. This is a skill that’s taught in most wilderness medicine courses, so consider taking a class before your next wintertime adventure.

5. Hypothermia’s Best Treatment is Prevention

The best solution for hypothermia is to prevent it from happening in the first place. 

With that in mind, the best way to prevent hypothermia is to stay warm. This means: 

  • dressing properly
  • covering your head and face if needed (even in the summer)
  • wearing a hat, gloves, and boots when appropriate
  • keeping dry with waterproof outer layers or rain gear
  • eating well-balanced meals that include plenty of high heat foods such as protein and fats
  • checking in regularly on others in your group while hiking in the cold
  • staying hydrated

With the right skills and equipment, you can stop hypothermia in its tracks during your next hike. Doing so requires a decent amount of pre-planning and foresight, but it’s worth it if it means your adventures can go off without a hitch.

Ultimately if you find yourself in a situation where someone develops hypothermia and needs assistance, be sure to get them warm and dry as quickly as possible. Don’t forget: prevention is the best answer!

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