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First Aid Daily : 1- Hypothermia- recognition of the Winter Killer

Unless you’ve been inside for the past few weeks, you’ll have noticed that we’re quickly approaching the time of the year were the temperature dramatically starts to drop, and once again it seems a lot of newspapers seems to be predicting that the British Isles are going to experience the “coldest winter in ‘X’ number of years (As they seem to do every year).

For the vast majority of us, this simply means wearing a few extra layers and indulging in whatever seasonal drinks our local coffee shops sell. Several of us here at Centric are no strangers to cold weather, having lived through several dark and bitter Norwegian winters myself I still feel comfortable wearing just a shirt at this time of year. Britain by no means has ‘bad winters’, but despite this hypothermia is still a big killer. Hence, this week we shall be focusing on cold-related illness and injuries.

Hypothermia sets in when our internal body temperature falls below the ‘normal range’ of 36.4C-37.6C. It may be common sense to state that the majority of cases take place in colder weather, however other factors play a major role. It is also important to note that babies and small children are more prone to hypothermia in milder temperatures due to the underdevelopment of their body temperature regulator, the hypothalamus.

Signs: When we are cold, we usually notice our bodies do a few things. We start to shiver, and our hairs stand on end giving us ‘goose bumps’. When a person starts to become more hypothermic however we could expect to see the following;

  • Cyanosis (Blueing of the extremities, such as the lips, nose, and fingers)
  • Numbness of the hands and inability to perform certain tasks.
  • Symptoms typical of ‘drunkenness’- slurred speech, imbalance whilst walking, lack of judgment and general concern.

If a person’s body temperature drops even further, they may begin to show signs of severe hypothermia, such as;

  • A stop in ‘shivering’
  • A shallow and slow breathing rate
  • Slow and weak pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • General ‘stiffening’ of the muscles

 

Depending on the severity of cold exposure, hypothermia can either be easily remedied all the way through to fatal. In the next post, we shall be looking at the treatment of hypothermia in both an Urban and Wilderness setting.

-Elliot James