Hypothermia & Frostbite

Prevention is the key to Hypothermia and Frostbite – both are avoidable with appropriate preparation and behavior.

Hypothermia – lowered body temperature. This can be cuased by frozen moisture, hunger, exhaustion, dehydration, or insufficient clothing.  

Mild Hypothermia – In this state you will shiver and be completely preoccupied (as you should be) with rewarming yourself. As your muscles cool you will lose coordination and become clumsier; you may start to lag behind the group; become cranky or distant (known as the "umbles": stumbles, mumbles, fumbles).

Remember to watch for these signs in other participants!

Treatment of mild Hypothermia – rewarm as soon as possible by any convenient means (eat, drink, put on more clothes, run around)!

Profound Hypothermia – this is a medical emergency. Your body temperature has fallen below 90F (32C) and you are incapable of rewarming yourself. At this stage your brain begins to cool and ceases to function normally. You are at risk of ventricle fibrillation (i.e., heart attack) if your friends rough handle you, re-warm you too quickly or cause you to physically exert yourself! Don’t let yourself get this cold!

Frostbite – the freezing of body tissue. Frostbite is caused by sub-freezing temperatures in combination with vasoconstriction – reduced circulation to the extremities. Dehydration, certain drugs (including caffeine, nicotine and THC), hypothermia, and constrictive (tight) clothing or boots, and genetic disposition all contribute to poor circulation.

Avoid contact with metal objects and liquids such as fuels and alcohol that are super cooled (below freezing). Touching these items can instantly freeze your flesh (yuck)!

Frostbite usually affects extremitiesProtect your sensitive parts with mittens, windproof underwear, windproof hats, face masks, etc. Thawing frozen parts is difficult and should only be attempted if you can assure the parts will not freeze again. Thawing should be done in a warm water bath between 100F and 108F (38C to 42C). Too often people burn themselves when trying to re-warm frostbite.

Frostbite is differentiated from the less serious and superficial frostnip by the black and or purple color and blisters that appear as frozen tissue thaws.

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