Hypothermia – not a matter to be taken lightly by anyone venturing outdoors – is the No. 1 killer of outdoor enthusiasts in North America.
For those unaware of this deadly medical condition, hypothermia occurs when the core temperature is reduced below its normal level, which is 98.6 degrees. The most common cause of hypothermia is an overexposure to cold temperatures when outside for prolonged periods.
While normally associated with freezing weather, one can experience hypothermia even in the mild months of the year, generally when temperatures range between 20 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Hypothermia is caused by four elements, not always linked to each other in concert to be deadly in their effects:
– First and most obviously is the cold, literally freezing you.
– Second is moisture, probably the sneakiest of the four in it’s ability to chill the body even in otherwise mild weather.
– Third is the wind, which penetrates clothing and pulls away vital body warmth, as it blows by.Hypothermia
– Fourth is exhaustion or overexertion, which lowers the body’s ability to produce energy and create warmth.
What are the symptoms of hypothermia to watch for in yourself and others with you outdoors? First and foremost is an uncontrollable bout of shivering brought on by the body trying to produce heat.
This is usually followed by a slurring or thickness of speech and an incoherent thought process. Stumbling while walking and an exhausted attitude to the point of being unable to get up after rest are a couple more symptoms to watch for.
Skin that is openly exposed to the elements may become blue. A weak or irregular pulse, retarded breathing, slow heart rate, and unconsciousness are usually the deepest stage of hypothermia. That is followed shortly by a loss of life functions if treatment isn’t started immediately
As in most cases, an ounce of prevention is the best cure. Before setting out on the water or going afield watch the weather for the area you will be in and dress accordingly.
Using a layered approach to clothing works best and allows the outdoors person to dress up or down to suit the changing conditions. Foul weather gear should always be an important part of your outdoor outfit as well to round out your protective covering from Mother Nature and her fickle moods. And last but certainly not least, always use a liberal dose of common sense when engaging in any outdoor activity so that your adventures under the big sky don’t become big tragedies.