By Todd Foulkes
Fort Greely Safety Office
Used with permission from the Fort Greely Interceptor
Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Hypothermia is most often caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in a cold body of water.
Hypothermia symptoms tend to develop gradually. As your body temperature drops, it can become harder for you to think clearly, so you may develop hypothermia and not realize you have it. Shivering, clumsiness, fumbling hands, exhaustion, memory loss, and slurred speech can occur. As hypothermia progresses, the victim may lie down and drift into unconsciousness.
Hypothermia is treated by warming your body and removing wet clothing. It is important to focus first on warming the central portion of the body; otherwise, blood vessels of the skin may dilate and your temperature may drop. Once your temperature starts to increase, your extremities can also be warmed. The person should be kept warm and dry, and medical attention should be sought as soon as possible. Before you step out into the cold remember to follow the acronym COLD: cover, overexertion, and layers, dry:
– Cover. Wear a hat or other protective covering to prevent body heat from escaping from your head, face and neck. Cover your hands with mittens instead of gloves. Mittens are more effective than gloves because mittens keep your fingers in closer contact with one another.
– Overexertion. Avoid activities that would cause you to sweat a lot. The combination of wet clothing and cold weather can cause you to lose body heat more quickly.
– Layers. Wear loose fitting, layered, lightweight clothing. Outer clothing made of tightly woven, water-repellent material is best for wind protection. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers hold body heat better than cotton does.
– Dry. Stay as dry as possible.