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Protecting Yourself from Hypothermia

By Donna Stark

Heat-related issues always seem to pop up in the hot summer months, don't they? We are constantly reminded to stay hydrated, seek shade, and head outdoors during the cooler hours of the day. But as much as those deadly heat waves populate the news reports during the summer, more deaths are actually caused by the brutal cold in the winter. When it comes to heat, the body does a pretty good job of taking care of itself; it can regulate its core temperature without much help at all. But when the colder weeks of fall and winter come around, the body needs and becomes dependent on all the extra help it can get, such as heat, extra clothing, and shelter. This is especially true for those areas with subzero temperatures where only a few minutes of being completely unprepared can cause severe hypothermia or even death.

What is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia occurs when there is a drop in body temperature caused by exposure to cold temperatures. Hypothermia is categorized by three stages: mild, moderate, and severe. Mild hypothermia can begin with a drop in as little as a few degrees, so it is important to be aware of the circumstances and situations that can put a person in danger, especially since the symptoms can be very subtle. Let's take a look.

  • Low energy
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Slurred or mumbled speech
  • Loss of coordination
  • A slow, weak pulse
  • Cool-to-touch bright red skin
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Anger or combativeness
  • Shivering
  • Unconsciousness

From Bad to Worse

Once the core body temperature gets below 91.5 degrees Fahrenheit, the brain starts to malfunction and everything starts to slow down, including the heartbeat and breathing. Hypothermia can turn from bad to worse very quickly and become a dangerous emergency if help isn't available. If you see someone who is exhibiting some of the symptoms and is in need of help, take the person's temperature. If it reads below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, call for immediate help, and in the meantime, here are some suggestions on what you can do until that help becomes available.

  • Take off any wet clothing and wrap the person in warm, dry blankets or extra clothes
  • Warm up the core first, then focus on the armpits, neck, and groin with heating pads if possible
  • Protect the body against any more elements, go indoors
  • Do not offer a hot bath as this can cause more complications
  • Provide warm liquids if the person is able to take them

Stay Aware

Before you head outdoors this season, make sure that you are prepared and have all your bases covered! Unintentional exposure can sneak up on you and all of your well-thought-out plans. By keeping supplies and extra clothing or blankets stocked in your car, and letting others know of your whereabouts and when you expect to be back home, you can certainly help prevent a serious emergency from becoming deadly.

The winter months are a great time to be outdoors ... just be safe in doing so!

To learn more about your health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Bellevue, Wash.

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