Hypothermia can be worse in wet and windy conditions and through exposure to cold water. The human body will lose heat 25 times faster in water. Even a person standing in their local indoor swimming pool could be in a life threatening state in little over three hours.

Usually moderate conditions of 10°C would be comfortable for most individuals, but bring in the wind and rain and a person can become hypothermic. It’s useful to be able to spot the symptoms and then incorporate a treatment plan.

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Prevention

It’s easier said than done but the best way to avoid hypothermia is to fully prepare for the activity / work that is to be carried out. Factors to consider include:

  • Wear suitable clothing eg full waterproofs;
  • Always have spare clothing in case of cold water exposure;
  • Always notify people where you are and when you will be back; and
  • Carry flotation devices when out in open water.

Symptoms

Mild symptoms of hypothermia include shivering (which cannot be controlled), loss of complex motor function, and a cold appearance to the skin. Casualties may also appear more irritable and become withdrawn.

In moderate to severe cases the casualty may lose fine motor control (eg fastening a zip), display violent shivering, and display irrational behaviour. During the latter stages a person may lie motionless, have muscle rigidity and drift into unconsciousness.

Remember - Look out for the “UMBLES” - stumbles, fumbles, mumbles & grumbles. These signs show worsening motor control.

Treatment (Mild)

Mild hypothermia can quite often be treated by a first aider at the scene, and the casualty should go on to make a full recovery. However this is presuming that they will no longer be exposed to the conditions that caused the initial hypothermia. Consider the following four step protocol when treating mild cases:

  1. Where possible take shelter in a warm room;
  2. Change the casualty into dry clothes;
  3. Give the casualty warm drinks (non alcoholic) and sugary snacks; and
  4. Monitor for signs of improvement, and seek medical attention when in doubt.

Treatment (Moderate - Severe)

Mild hypothermia when left untreated can develop into a life threatening condition. When mild cases cannot be dealt with the first aid treatment protocol differs:

  1. Contact the emergency services stating your location;
  2. Completely dry the casualty;
  3. Give warm drinks with sugar dissolved inside;
  4. Place in a wrap of blankets / sleeping bags;
  5. Warm the casualty slowly with heat pads / hot water bottles under their armpits, next to the neck and near the groin; and
  6. Prepare for Basic Life Support if the casualty stops breathing.

Remember - Do not give them any food (solids) as their stomach could be shutting down