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Front Page » December 30, 2008 » Carbon County News » Hypothermia growing concern
Published 2,069 days ago

Hypothermia growing concern


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By C.J. MCMANUS
Sun Advocate community editor

As temperatures begin to dip below the zero mark on Carbon County thermometers and local children head out to their favorite snow hills, local residents are reminded of the danger and sudden onset of hypothermia.

According to Utah's travel and safety website, hypothermia is an unintentional decrease in body temperature to below 95 degrees F. The condition is dangerous and potentially fatal. Another definition of hypothermia provided by Wikipedia states, "hypothermia is a condition in which an organism's temperature drops below that required for normal metabolism and bodily functions. In warm blooded animals, core body temperature is maintained near constant level through biologic homeostasis. But, when the body is exposed to cold, its internal mechanisms may be unable to replenish the heat that is lost to the organisms surroundings."

No matter how it is explained, hypothermia is a painful and often fatal condition.

The disease can affect anyone, however it is most prevalent among the elderly and those with chronic conditions such as diabetes when temperatures are near or below freezing. The good news about hypothermia is that it can be avoided even in the most difficult situations.

"You can keep yourself warm and protected from the harsh winter weather by dressing in layers," explained the Utah safety site at www.health.utah.gov.

Layering means wearing one layer of clothing over another. This technique traps the insulating air between the layers and prevents heat loss from the body by resisting:

•Conduction, heat loss by direct contact.

•Convection, heat loss due to the surrounding cold air.

•Evaporation, heat loss due to sweating and breathing.

The site suggests starting with long Polyprolene, Capilene, Coolmax, ZeO2 or any other non-absorbing material as a first layer. Cotton is not good in the winter, states the site.

The second layer should provide insulation and should be thicker than the first. It is also important that this layer retain it's heat insulating properties even when wet, like as a polyester fleece substance.

The third layer should be used for protection from the wind, rain and snow. Materials such as Goretex, Entrant, Versatech, Helly Tech and Ultrex are recommended by the Utah safety and heath administration.

"The advantage of layering is that a layer of clothing can be easily removed as the body warms," explains the site.

The symptoms of hypothermia can be difficult to recognize at first but the earlier the condition is detected the better the subject's chance of survival from the ordeal.

According to Wikipedia, during initial stages, the victim becomes unable to perform complex tasks with their hands; their hands become numb and their breathing becomes quick and shallow.

"Often, a person will experience a warm sensation, as if they have recovered but they are in fact heading into stage two," explains the online community encyclopedia. "Another test to see if a person is entering stage two is if they are unable to touch their thumb with their little finger."

Once a person's body has dropped more than 3.8-7.6 degrees shivering becomes more violent and coordination becomes more and more impaired. As the body attempts to heat its inner organs, lips, ears and toes may become blue.

One an individuals body has dropped below 89.6 degrees, shivering usually stops. The person has difficulty speaking and is in the third stage of hypothermia where metabolic processes shut down. From here, pulse and respiration rates decrease significantly and major organs begin to fail.

Treatment of hypothermia consists of drying, sheltering and gradually warming, making sure not the rub the patient's body, to warm with blankets and, if possible transfer ones own body heat. It is vital that the core of the body is warmed first or else the cold blood will be forced towards the heart and may cause death.

"In the field, a mildly hypothermic person can be effectively rewarmed through close body contact from a companion and by drinking warm sweet liquids," explains the site.

Wikipedia warns that all moderate to severe cases of hypothermia require immediate evacuation and treatment in a hospital and that a person is not dead until they are "warm and dead."

As a strange side note, according to the site, there is considerable evidence that children who suffer near-drowning accidents in water near 32 degrees can be revived over an hour after losing consciousness. The cold water lowers metabolism, allowing the brain to withstand much longer periods of hypoxia.

For further information concerning hypothermia, visit Wikipedia and the Utah Travel and Safety Council.

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