Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Winter Hiking Part 2 - Hypothermia

Winter Hiking Part 2 - Hypothermia

In "Winter Hiking Part 2" I'll take a look at hypothermia. A common challenge for outdoor enthusiasts. I'll try to answer the following questions:
  • What exactly is hypothermia?
  • What are the symptoms?
  • How can I prevent hypothermia?
What exactly is hypothermia?

Hypothermia is when the body looses more heat than it can produce and the core body temperature decreases below normal as a result. It impairs regular muscular and cerebral functions. Mild hypothermia can be reversed. If ignored it can lead to serious consequences like frostbite and even cause death.

What are the symptoms?

The regular human body temperature is 37° Celsius or 98.5° Fahrenheit. If it drops below that, we'll get first warning signs. Fingers, toes, nose and ears are getting cold. Most folks have experienced that. Nothing really serious in that early stage and - as long as the warning signs are not ignored - easily reversed. More on that later.

What happens if someone ignores those early warning signs?

Well, the system will shut down. In an attempt to conserve body heat for vital organs the body will reduce blood circulation to extremities. Fingers and toes will become increasingly numb. You'll freeze badly and start shaking all over. Muscles will become stiff, movements uncoordinated. Hypothermia effects the brain too, leading to confusion. Morover, the ability to make rational decisions will be impaired. A person in that stage of hypothermia has a serious problem!

What would happen next?

The shaking will eventually stop. You'll feel exhausted and so tired that you could fall asleep every second. Mental sensation will be increasinfly impaired. You'll feel dizzy, may even halucinate. Pulse and respiration will slow down. You'll faint and finally the respiratory system will get paralysed and your heart will fail. Killed by hypothermia.

In Winter Hiking Part 3 I'll cover the question: How can I prevent hypothermia?

And here's a link back to Winter Hiking Part 1 so you don't have to search for it.