Hypothermia and Frostbite are terrible conditions to find you in during cold weather conditions. It can occur quite often when you go canyoning because all the hype around extreme sports. Hypothermia can be fatal while Frostbite can scar you for life. So you should take the necessary preparations to prevent them from happening. Read more and learn more about them below.
Hypothermia is not prevented by only wearing warm clothing but also by proper body maintenance. Being well-fed, well-hydrated, and well- acclimatized are much more important than wearing and using high-tech clothing and equipment. Eat food with simple sugars and have enough fluids to drink.
Symptoms of Hypothermia are exhaustion, numb skin (particularly toes and fingers), shivering, slurred speech, irrational or violent behaviour, lethargy, stumbling, dizzy spells, muscle cramps, and violent bursts of energy. Irrationality may take the form of victims claiming that they are warm and trying to take off their clothes.
To treat Hypothermia, get the victim out of the wind and/or rain, remove wet clothing, and replace it with dry, warm clothing. Give them hot liquids – not alcohol – and some high-energy, easy-to-digest food. Do not rub the victims, but allow the victims to slowly warm themselves. These are the first steps to avoid severe Hypothermia.
Frostbite is the freezing of the skin and/or the bodily tissues under the skin. Here, the fluids in the body tissues and cellular spaces freeze and crystallize. This can cause damage to the blood vessels and result in blood clotting and lack of oxygen to the affected area. Serious cases of Frostbite have been known to kill and damage tissue to the extent that amputation is required. Frostbite normally affects the hands, feet, ears, nose, and face.
There are several variables that can lead to Frostbite:
- Length of time a person is exposed to the cold
- Temperature outside
- Force of the wind (wind chill factor)
- Humidity in the air
- Wetness of clothing, shoes, and body coverings
- Ingestion of alcohol and other drugs
- High altitudes
The elderly and young are particularly susceptible. Additionally, people with circulation problems, history of previous cold injuries, those who ingest particular drugs (such as alcohol, nicotine, and beta-blockers), and those with recent injury or blood loss are at risk. Although not medically related, it seems that people from southern or tropical climates may be more at risk.
Symptoms and Treatment
Mild Frostbite, also called Frostnip, affects the outer skin layers and appears as a blanching or whitening of the skin. Usually, these symptoms disappear as warming occurs, but the skin may appear red for several hours.
In severe cases, the frostbitten skin will appear waxy with a white, grayish-yellow or grayish-blue color. The affected part(s) will be numb and blisters may be present. The tissue will feel frozen or “wooden”. This indicates a very serious condition.
Other symptoms that indicate Frostbite are swelling, itching, burning, and deep pain as the area is warmed.
Proper clothing for winter insulates from the cold, lets perspiration evaporate, and provides protection against wind, rain, and snow. Down coats and vests are warm. However, if down gets wet, it is not an effectively warm fabric. Coverings for the head and neck are important because 70% of the heat loss is from the head. Hats, hoods, scarves, earmuffs, and face masks are good protection.
Protect your feet and toes. Wear two pairs of socks – wool is best, or cotton socks with a pair of wool on top. Wear well-fitted boots that are high enough to cover the ankles. Hand coverings are vital. Mittens are warmer than gloves, but may limit what you can do with your fingers. Wear lightweight gloves under mittens so you’ll still have protection if you need to take off your mittens to use your fingers.
Be sure your clothing and boots are not tight. A decrease in blood flow makes it harder to keep the body parts warm and increases the risk of Frostbite.
When in Frostbite-causing conditions, dress appropriately, stay near adequate shelter, avoid alcohol and tobacco, and avoid staying in the same position for long periods.
You have read how proper clothing works with proper diet and hydration can prevent Hypothermia and Frostbite from happening to you. It always pays to be prepared when climbing especially in extreme weather conditions. You never know what danger might lurk there. We hope that the articles above helped you fill in that ounce of prevention you need.