With colder temperatures on the way, or already here in some places, hypothermia becomes a concern for many, especially children, the elderly, or those who work or play outdoors. Here are some tips that everyone can use to help prevent hypothermia.
1. Layer Clothing
Layering clothes is essential to staving off hypothermia. Layers should be lightweight and made of wool, silk or synthetic materials. Avoid cotton as it is a poor insulator and if it gets wet, it gets very heavy. Outer layers should be made of a waterproof material to keep everything dry and to help keep out wind. Children should wear at least one more layer than adults.
2. Cover Up
Cover up any bare skin. This means hats, scarves and ski masks. Mittens are better than gloves because mittens keep fingers closer together so they stay warmer. Be sure that hats cover the ears. Ears are one of the first things to become affected by cold, and frostbite can result quickly. Again, cotton should be avoided here because it doesn’t provide the warmth of other materials.
3. Avoid Overexertion
Overexertion poses a couple of problems when it comes to hypothermia. First, it almost always causes people to remove layers of clothing, which allows the body to lose heat quickly. The second problem is that overexertion causes sweating. The moisture on the skin in combination with the cold can cause freezing of skin.
4. Stay Dry
If clothing becomes wet, it should be changed immediately. Wet clothing can freeze to skin and cause frostbite and freezing. If skin or the tissues below freeze, gangrene and amputation become a real possibility. Being wet causes the body to cool rapidly; this is why the human body sweats when it’s hot. Staying dry is essential to retaining heat and avoiding hypothermia.
5. Limit Time Spent Outdoors
The most obvious way to prevent hypothermia is to limit time spent outdoors in the cold; perhaps no more than 30 minutes at a time before going indoors to warm up. This can be very difficult for children to do since playing in the snow can be so much fun. But children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to cold. Children’s bodies are not developed enough to be able to fight off the effects of the cold, and as people age, the hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain that controls the body’s responses to cold, doesn’t function as well as before.
6. Use the Buddy System
If it’s possible, people shouldn’t go out into the cold alone. Most accidents outdoors that result in hypothermia happen when people are alone. Obviously, children should never be outside unsupervised, but the same is true for the elderly. The problem is that the elderly, in trying to maintain their independence, don’t always know when to ask for help. So they may not think to ask for someone to go out with them. This can be deadly if they slip and fall outside and no one is around to help them.
7. Eat and Drink Hot Food and Beverages
Consuming hot foods and drinks can help provide warmth to the center of the body to help keep the core temperature go up. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below the critical temperature of 95⁰ F. The body will then begin to shut down functions to the outer most parts of the body, moving inward in an effort to warm the body’s core. By consuming hot food and beverages, the body won’t have to work as hard to warm itself when it’s cold.
8. Hot Water Bottles
Hypothermia doesn’t just result from the cold outdoors. Those with poorly heated homes, for instance, may experience hypothermia even indoors. This is especially true for the elderly or children who live in older homes, which are notorious for being drafty. Hot water bottles can be an effective means for providing warmth to those most susceptible to cold.
Extra blankets are a low tech way to provide layered warmth in any environment. Keep a few in the car and around the house. Also, if someone is going to be outdoors, they should always pack an emergency blanket. These blankets are made of material that reflects warmth onto the person and they are extremely lightweight and easy to put in a backpack.
10. Hand and Foot Warmers
These work extremely well for hands and feet and keeping the extremities warm means that the body doesn’t have to work as hard to warm those areas. When hypothermia sets in, these are the areas that are affected first as the body pulls blood back in an effort to keep the core temperature up. In a pinch, these can also be packed around the body to warm it up.
Hypothermia is a condition that is very serious, but easily prevented. By following these tips people, especially the kids, can enjoy the winter weather safely.