Recent colder weather should remind outdoorsmen of the constant danger that lurks in the cold waters around them while hunting, fishing, or boating during the winter months. A silent killer with a long name…….hypothermia……. takes the lives of many outdoor enthusiasts every year, and is a real threat that few understand.
Hypothermia occurs when the human body temperature drops below 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which is considered to be normal. Since most winters in the south are rather mild, many believe this to be a problem that should only worry those in the cold north, but this is a bad assumption.
Most cases of hypothermia actually happen in air temperatures of 30 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which falls right into the range of southern winters. During the colder months of the year, body heat can be lost in several ways:
conduction (direct contact with the elements)
convection (movement of the air over the body)
radiation (invisible infrared heat loss caused by not covering all areas of the body)
respiration (heat loss through expelling humidified air from the lungs)
The danger to fishermen is even worse since body heat loss from conduction is five times as fast in icy water or when wearing wet clothes.
Falling out of BoatAccording to the U.S. Department of Interior, the signs and symptoms of hypothermia are in this order of occurrence: shivering; confusion; sleepiness; stiffening of arms and legs; unconsciousness; and coma. Death can occur two hours after the first sign or symptom, therefore fast action is needed to treat a victim.
Once a person is diagnosed or suspected of having hypothermia, all wet clothing should be removed from the subject immediately, and he or she must be taken out of the cold environment. Since that person’s capacity for generating enough heat to overcome the lowered body temperatures is impaired, some other source besides his own will be needed to aid in restoring the sufferer to normal body heat.
If no artificial heat source is available, place the victim between two other people and wrap them in a dry blanket or sleeping bag. Their combined body heat could be enough to overcome the loss of body temperature, and if the affected person is capable of swallowing, give them some moderately warm liquids. Remember, anything is still just first aid. This person needs expert medical attention from a qualified physician as soon as possible.
Prevention of hypothermia can be greatly enhanced by selecting the proper outdoor clothing. High-tech, man-made products are on the market today that are far more lightweight and water-resistant than conventional materials. Their insulating fibers continue to function even when damp, and can extend the time a person’s body maintains a high enough temperature under adverse conditions.
In addition to dressing properly, one should always keep a space blanket or sleeping bag for outdoor emergencies. One of these could be put into a watertight container in a boat, car, or camping pack.
Many people who succumb to the silent death of hypothermia probably never realize that they are in trouble. Even though they make it to the shore after falling into icy waters, if not prepared, help usually comes too late!