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VOL. 14 NO. 1
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Treating hypothermia

What to do (and not to do) in the event of hypothermia

Treating hypothermia

Hypothermia is the abnormal lowering of the body’s internal temperature resulting from loss of heat due to exposure to cold air, wind or water. It can occur even on bright, sunny days. Many deaths attributed to drowning are caused by hypothermia.

Hypothermia’s effects appear more quickly in water than air and much more quickly in cold water. So be particularly careful on northern lakes in late spring when water temperatures are still very low.

To delay the occurrence of hypothermia, dress warmly, stay dry and keep out of the wind. If you fall into the water while wearing a life jacket, you can delay hypothermia by remaining inactive. A life jacket lessens the need to move around in the water and will help conserve and retain body heat.

If you are alone in the water, hold the inner side of your arms tightly against the sides of your chest; press your thighs together and raise them to close off the groin region where blood vessels are close to the surface. This is the H.E.L.P. (Heat Escape Lessening Posture) position.

When more than one victim is in the water, the huddle position is recommended. Victims huddle together as a group with chests side by side and arms around each other’s shoulders to minimize heat loss.

Watch this video from America's Boating Channel to learn more on cold water survival.

Symptoms of hypothermia*

  • Shivering, numbness, glassy stare
  • Apathy, weakness, impaired judgment
  • Loss of consciousness

What to do

  • Seek immediate medical attention.
  • Send someone to call for an ambulance. (On the water, radio for medical assistance on Channel 16.)
  • Check the victim’s breathing and pulse.
  • Give rescue breathing and CPR as necessary.
  • Gently move the person out of the cold.
  • Remove wet clothing and dry the person.
  • Insulate the person’s body from the cold ground.
  • Warm the person slowly by wrapping in blankets or by putting dry clothing on him or her.
  • Share body heat.
  • Hot water bottles and chemical hot packs may be used if first wrapped in a towel or blanket before applying.

What not to do

  • Do not warm the person too quickly, such as immersing him or her in warm water. Rapid warming can cause dangerous heart rhythms.
  • Don’t apply direct heat.
  • Don’t massage or rub.
  • Don’t provide alcoholic beverages.
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