The Phaserl


Hypothermia: Prevention, Identification, and Treatment

from Survival Blog:

Hypothermia is a condition wherein the core body temperature drops from its “normal” temperature, with normal being between 97.7 and 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Some symptoms, in order of increasing seriousness, are cold extremities, mild shivering, mental confusion, muscle incoordination, severe shivering and shaking, combativeness, paradoxical undressing, and cardiac arrest. A drop in core body temperature of as little as three degrees can result in these symptoms and eventually lead to death.

Hypothermia should be a concern with anyone who lives in Western Washington, given our wet, temperate climate. Its prevention, identification, and treatment must be in the forefront of our minds while operating outdoors for periods longer than one hour; it is as important as proper hydration and nutrition. Hypothermia will not only decrease your individual readiness, it will also affect team readiness, as a team member with hypothermia will divert resources from the team’s operational capability. A five-person team can be rendered ineffective, if just one member becomes hypothermic.

This article will explore the prevention, identification, and treatment of hypothermia.

Prevention: Clothing

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In Western Washington, staying dry is the best preventative. Staying active, fed, and hydrated are close seconds. In order to stay dry while operating outdoors, the proper clothing is essential. If you take nothing else from this article, take this: COTTON IS ROTTEN. Even in the summertime, cotton clothing can lead to hypothermia. Why is that?

Cotton is a hygroscopic fiber; this means it attracts water. Water will be wicked into the fibers to such an extent that a pair of blue jeans will absorb several times its own weight in water. Even without complete immersion, an entire cotton garment can become saturated. That water will then be held against the body. As water conducts heat better than air by several orders of magnitude, a greater amount of body heat will be transferred away from you into the wet garment and from there into the environment much faster than if you were dry. The hygroscopic nature of the fiber will prevent most evaporation from the garment, especially on a humid day.

Two sources of wet clothing exist: external and internal. External moisture is rain, snow, falling in a river, et cetera. Internal moisture is your own sweat. A waterproof outer layer is not sufficient itself; it must be paired with a base layer made of hydrophobic materials– material that does not absorb water– in order to move sweat away from your body and into the environment. Cotton clothing underneath a waterproof outer layer will not keep you dry and warm, even if your outer layer is a breathable water barrier; your sweat will saturate the cotton and keep it next to your body.

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