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A Hiker’s Guide to Hypothermia

What is hypothermia?

Hypothermia is the potentially deadly drop in one’s body temperature. Typically a result of extended exposure in sub- freezing temperatures. It can be a potentially fatal condition. Hypothermia can strike during any season, even when temperatures are mild.

Signs of hypothermia

– Victim may try removing layers of clothing, known as ‘paradoxical undressing’

– Loss of coordination and general state of confusion

– Slurred speech and mixing up words

– Slow breathing and low pulse rate

– Lack of overall energy

– Pale and cold skin

– Shivering uncontrollably but the victim feels that they are warm

Stages of Hypothermia

Mild Hypothermia: Normal mental status (no confusion or disorientation) with shivering. Estimated core temperature is 90-95 degtees F. The brain will trigger a flood of hormones to help increase the body’s temperature. Victim will likely experience heavy breathing, spiked heart rate, slurred speech, difficulty with balance or decreased coordination with arms and legs, shivering, cold sweats, and poor judgement.

Moderate Hypothermia: Mental status is altered (confusion and disorientation) without shivering. Estimated core temperature 82-90 degrees F. Breathing will slow, heart rate will slow. The victim will enter a state of confusion, their mental clarity and alertness will dwindle, and their reflexes will decrease rapidly. The victim might also feel as if they are hot, and want to undress layers, when they are in fact freezing cold.

Severe Hypothermia: Unconscious. Estimated core temperature 75-82 degrees F. This stage of hypothermia can lead to loss of life. Decreased level of consciousness will now have changed to unresponsive or to near coma, and eventually all organ functions will stop and the person will die.

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Treating hypothermia

For mild symptoms: Place warm insulating clothes or wrap blankets around the body Move to a warm, dry shelter as soon as possible. Have victim drink warm liquids, unless victim is unconscious. Remove victim from wind, or any exposed weather areas. If accessible, take the victims temperature. If the victims symptoms do not show further improvement, seek medical attention.


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