How to prevent hypothermia
Hypothermia is usually caused by prolonged exposure to cold. When more heat is lost than the body can generate, hypothermia can result. It is accelerated by wet or damp clothing or sudden contact with cold water. Common causes include wearing wet clothing for a prolonged period of time in windy weather, heavy exertion, or poor fluid or food intake.
Anyone can suffer from hypothermia, but some get cold faster than others and should always be watched carefully in cold conditions, as they may not realize what is happening to them. Those most likely to experience hypothermia are those who are very old, very young, or very thin; those who have heart or circulation problems; and people who are hungry, tired, or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Prevention of hypothermia
Here’s some general advice for the prevention of hypothermia. Remember prevention is always better than cure!
- Prepare for the worst conditions and take extra clothing.
- Wear suitable clothing in cold weather; wind-proof and water-resistant clothing.
- Avoid overheating and sweating. Wear loose, layered clothing that ìbreathesî. Cotton wets easily and dries slowly; wool is warm even when wet; and polypropylene and polyester are superior next to the skin.
- Avoid long-term cooling. Take tea breaks often when working to allow a chance to get out of the wind. DO NOT continue to work or play outside if you are getting seriously cold. If you try to tough it out, your judgement may fade before you realize it, and you may make other mistakes.
- Eat often to provide “fuel for your furnace”. Sugars and starches work most quickly.
- Drink lots, but avoid alcohol, as it may speed cooling due to the dilation of peripheral blood vessels. Dehydration is a factor in most cases of exposure. Hot sweet drinks are best, but cold water is fine if nothing hot is available. DO NOT eat snow if you are cold.
- Keep your big muscles moving to create heat. If your fingers or toes are cold, wiggling them wonít make them warm but exercising the large muscles of your arms and legs will. Swing your arms vigorously to warm your hands or put your hands in your armpits.
- Check your partners and friends often. If they get clumsy, shiver, slur their speech, or act strangely, suspect exposure. Remember, they may not realize what is happening.
Want to learn more about the first aid treatment of hypothermia? Check out our first aid guide to hypothermia.