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I can always tell it’s getting colder, not by the weather app on my phone, but by how much money I’m hemorrhaging into my local cafe for takeaway coffees. Here in Bath the temperature really has plummeted. Still, it beats being back at my old college in Norway, there’s already 1ft of snow there…..
So today we’re covering the treatment of hypothermia. As I mentioned last week we will be covering both in an urban and wilderness setting. We’ll take a look at the differences in just a bit.
Firstly, regardless of setting, we must always remember to be gentle with our casualty. Firstly, because it’s the polite thing to do, and secondly excessive or sudden movements may induce cardiac arrest, depending on the severity of hypothermia, turning an already bad situation worse.
In treatment, we must remember what it is we’re hoping to achieve, and that’s to raise the core body temperature first and foremost. If we are in an urban setting, we can do this relatively simply;
- If the patient is indoors we must turn up the heating, if they are outdoors, get them into the nearest building. If possible, seat them near a radiator or use a hot water bottle.
- Give them any spare clothing, such as hats, scarves, jackets, gloves, and blankets if possible. By doing this we insulate the casualty and limit further heat loss.
- (Here’s my favorite) Give the casualty something warm to drink. Coffee, Hot Chocolate always work well (However, Centric is a British company, so we always recommend tea!) It’s important to note that in many first-aid treatments we don’t recommend giving the casualty anything to eat or drink due to the possibility of shock. However, with hypothermia, this is different, by taking in warm liquids we are warming the body from the inside out.
- Always be reassuring to the patient, if symptoms do not pass, or rapidly get worse, contact the emergency services and monitor vital signs.
Generally speaking, hypothermia isn’t that dangerous to us in an urban setting, unless we are old. However, when out in the wilderness (say, the Brecon Beacons for example), weather can change rapidly, and if we aren’t prepared, we can easily get caught short.
- Prepare in advance, know the weather you may face and prepare for any sudden changes. Wear the appropriate clothing and remember (Cotton in the hills, kills)
- If you or someone you’re with starts showing signs of mild hypothermia, instruct them to remove any wet clothing they’re wearing and put on insulated jackets, fleeces, hats & gloves. Wearing a waterproof jacket over this, such as Gore-tex, will help further. Instruct them to take on some food. (I usually carry Kendal Mint Cake for such circumstances, if you didn’t know it was taken up the first successful ascent of Everest)
- If hypothermia gets worse, find cover. A berm, cave or a tent work well if you do not have an emergency bothy.
- Insulate the patient’s underside, we lose heat to the group faster than we do to the air.
- Instruct them to place their hands under their armpits to prevent frostnip
- Safely use any heat sources, such as a fire or stove in raising the temperature of the area. Stick a brew on for the casualty.
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol. This isn’t the movies were a great St.Bernard comes with a glass of brandy. It only makes the situation worse.
- If the casualty does not get better, call the emergency services and prepare for an air evacuation if applicable.
Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for Frostnip & Frostbite later this week.