There’s a chill in the air, leaves are changing color in some parts of the country and other parts of the country there has already been significant snow fall. Are you and your employees ready for the fall and winter environment? Unfortunately, most people don’t give hypothermia the attention that is given to heat stress. In Arizona almost as many people die from hypothermia as die from heat stroke.
The down side to hypothermia is that some of the symptoms are similar to heat stress. However, first aid is more complex and recovery is slower and longer requiring professional medical treatment being administered as soon as possible.
Everyone reading this article has had hypothermia at least once if not more. Let me prove it.
Have you ever felt cold?
Have you ever shivered?
Have you ever shivered so hard you could not stop?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you have experienced the first stages of hypothermia. Like heat stress, hypothermia is preventable when the proper precautions are taken.
What is the difference between heat stress and hypothermia? Hypothermia is basically the reverse medical condition of heat stress. With heat stress the body can’t dissipate heat fast enough, dehydrations starts and it becomes a vicious cycle. Hypothermia is a medical condition where the body loses heat faster then it can generate heat, hypothermia starts and this becomes a vicious cycle also.
Heat always migrates to a cooler environment. The average person has a body core temperature of approximately 98.6° and when unprotected parts of the body are exposed to temperatures below 98.6° body heat transfers to the cooler environment and starts to accelerate the process. As the environmental and body core temperature drop, the brain sends a message to constrict the blood vessels in the extremities restricting blood flow. The blood is then retained in the body core to conserve heat because the body can not produce heat fast enough to warm the entire body. After about twenty minutes, the brain sends another message for the blood vessels to temporarily dilate and let warm blood from the body core flow to the extremities to warm them up and bring the cold blood back to the body core and then constrict the blood vessels again. When this occurs the cold blood being returned to the core lowers the core temperature resulting in the organs working harder to heat the cold blood and maintain body temperature. Unfortunately, this becomes a vicious cycle and the person slips deeper into the danger zones of hypothermia.
Just like heat stress, the same key essentials for prevention of hypothermia and they are proper hydration, proper diet and clothing for the environmental exposure you or your employees will be exposed to. I am only going to cover the causes and risk factors for a person who may be exposed to conditions where they may experience hypothermia. The detailed symptoms and first aid are covered in specific safety training and first aid classes and will not be covered in this article.
The Primary Causes of Hypothermia are:
· The failure to stay properly hydrated which accelerates hypothermia.
· Failure to consume the appropriate amount of calories to fuel the body to generate heat.
· Failure to have the proper clothing for the environmental conditions.
· Failure to keep moving to generate heat. When muscles are working they are generating heat.
· Various medical conditions effect how the body generates heat in cold environments.
The Primary Medical Risk Factors of Hypothermia are:
· Infants and people aged 65 and older have trouble regulating body heat which makes them highly susceptible to hypothermia.
· Consumption of alcohol when environmental temperatures are at or below freezing. This can lead to flash freezing of tissue inside the mouth, top and back of the throat and trachea which can be fatal.
· The use of illegal drugs inhibits the body’s ability to produce heat and regulate body temperature.
· Certain prescription medications will inhibit the body’s ability to regulate body heat.
· People who are diabetic have trouble with cold temperatures.
· People who are fighting infection have trouble with cold temperatures.
· People who have coronary problems are at high risk dealing with cold temperatures.
Environmental Risk Factors of Hypothermia are:
· Temperatures at or below 50° Fahrenheit.
· Winds from 4 to 30 miles per hour.
· Rain, sleet, snow or freezing rain.
· Wet clothing from sweat, rain, snow, etc.
Safety Measures in the Prevention of Hypothermia:
· Eat a health meal which will supply the calories required to generate adequate body heat for the conditions that will be found in the environmental conditions.
· Eat snacks periodically to replenish calories.
· Drink warm non-caffeinated beverages.
· Do not sit or lean on cold items such as bleachers, stones, ground, aluminum, automobiles, etc.
· Keep moving as much as possible.
· Keep clothing dry.
Clothing not to wear in cold wet weather to prevent hypothermia:
· Tennis shoes provide no insulation properties when dry and accelerate heat loss when wet.
· Cotton or nylon socks provide little to no insulation when dry and none when wet.
· Blue jeans and denim jackets have minimal insulation properties when dry and none when damp or wet.
· Cotton sweat shirts provide little insulation when dry and none when damp or wet.
· Don’t wear short sleeve shirts or short pants.
· Don’t wear ponchos because they do not cover the entire leg and if the wind is blowing, rain will blow up under the poncho.
Clothing to wear for protection and prevention of hypothermia:
· Leather water repellant shoes or hiking boots. These types of shoes will repel water; they also breathe which will permit perspiration to escape while keeping the feet warm.
· Wool or wool blend hiking socks provide excellent insulation for the feet while wicking away moisture. Wool will retain up to 80% of its insulation property when wet, where cotton doesn’t.
· Wool or wool blend trousers.
· Long sleeve shirts.
· Wool or wool blend sweater.
· Coat or jacket that will insulate, repel water and wick away sweat.
· Neck scarf to insulate the neck area and prevent heat from escaping through the top of the coat or jacket.
· A wool or wool blend head covering.
· If it is raining or heavy snow, a rain suit with separate jacket and hood to keep clothing dry.
Every year in the United State approximate 600 to 700 people die from hypothermia and in Arizona an average of 23 people die of hypothermia. Every year in the United State approximate 600 to 700 people die from hypothermia and in Arizona an average of 23 people die of hypothermia.
Every year in the United State approximate 600 to 700 people die from hypothermia and in Arizona an average of 23 people die of hypothermia. Remember this, nobody ever froze to death, they died of hypothermia first. The freezing part came later if the temperature was below freezing.
Hypothermia is preventable. Enjoy the winter months and don’t fall victim to hypothermia.