HYPOTHERMIA & DEHYDRATION
Above: This was last winter near Wrexham. There's a Subaru Impreza under there! Three feet of snow in two days!!!
You have two main worries when extreme cold weather strikes – hypothermia and, suprisingly, dehydration. depending where you are, cold weather can be drier than hot desert weather, so you need to keep drinking.
If you run out of water, do not be tempted to eat snow, tempting though it may be, this is a very quick way to drop your body’s core temperature, which can quickly spiral into hypothermia and subsequently death. Melt the snow in a container, using a flame until it’s warm and drink that.
Do NOT drink alcohol, it also drops the body’s temperature.
Body functions are also slowed during hypothermia, including heart and breathing rate, metabolism and metal activity. A victim of hypothermia could display a variety of signs/symtoms, such as slow to zero pulse and breathing, confused mental status – unresponsiveness to pain and verbal stimulus, slirred speech, ‘drunken’ walking, unconciousness and cold skin.
If necessary, commence Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR); mouthn to mouth (or mouth to mask) brething during CPR is best because either provides warm, humidified air to the patient. However, the patient needs to have expert medical treatment as soon as possible.
A very simple defination of frostbite is the freezing of the skin and/or the bodily tissues under the skin – the fluids in the body tissues and cellular spaces actually freeze and crystalise. This can cause damage to the blood vessels and lack of oxygen to the affected area, resulting in blood clotting. In serious cases of frostbite, the tissue has been killed or damaged, resulting in the need for amputation. More often than not, it’s the hands, feet, ears, nose and face that suffers frostbite.
Basically, frostbite is caused by exposure of the body to cold and several factors can contribute to its development, such as the length of time a person is exposed to cold and the temperature. Also the windchill factor needs to be taken into consideration, along with air humidity, wetness of clothing (including footwear). The victim can also be more affected if he/she has injested alcohol and/or drugs. High altitude is another factor.
If the condiitions are suitable, frostbite can occur in a very short time – i.e. minutes – usually if the flesh is exposed in cold conditions, with a high wind chill factor. Other facts are that both the young and elderly are both particulary susceptible. Additionally, persons with a history of previous cold injuries or those with circulation problems, along with those who have recently been using alcohol, nicotine and beta-blockers, along with those with recent injury and/or blood loss are more at risk.
Prevention is easier than cure, so wear several layers of loose and light clothing, that will provide ventilation and trap air. The best fabrics are wool, polyester substitutes and water repellent material – as opposed to waterproof, which retains persperation. Ask in your favourite specialised outdoor shop for advice. Cover you head and neck – hats, hoods, scarves earmuffs and facemasks all add up to good protection.
Your feet should be protected by wearing two pairs of socks – there are specialised socks available from outdoor shops – not cheap, but if they save your foot or feet, it’s got to be money well spent. Wool socks are normally the best, but cotton socks with a pair of wool ones on top is another alternative. Wear well-fitted boots – when you’re buying them, don’t forget to try them on with two pairs of socks – and they should be high enough to cover the ankles. Make sure they’re not too tight, as decreased blood flow increases the risk of frostbite. Try to find shelter to stay out of the wind and do NOT smoke or DRINK ALCOHOL. Keep moving about.
Frostnip (mild frostbite) affects the outer skin layers and appears as a blanching or whitening of the skin. Fortunately, these symptoms usually recede as warming occurs, but the skin can appear red for quite a few hours. When the frostbitten skin appears waxy-looking, along with a white, greyish-yellow or slate blue colour, this means the victim has a severe case of frostbite and the affected tissue will be numb, feel frozen and may be blistered – professional medical help should be obtained.
Other frostbite symptoms are burning, itching, swelling and a deep pain as you warm the affected area.
If you are suffering from frostbite, try to have your injury re-warmed under medical supervision and try to get to a warm place where you can stay warm. You should avoidusing the injured limbs – if your feet are injured, try to avoid walking, if at all possible.
Water used to warm affected parts should be warm to the touch and used for around 30 to 45 minutes, until a good colour has returned to the affected area. Be warned, this process, especially the final ten minutes can be very painful.
Do not use dry heat to thaw, such as a heatlamp, heating pad, radiator, etc., and don’t try and use melted ice. Also don’t be tempted to have a ‘fag’ or can of beer, while you wait to be defrosted.
Cover blisters with sterile or clean covering and avoid the temptation to ‘pop’ them, as this will reduce the risk of infection. try and elevate the affected area above the level of the heart.
FIRST AID/SURVIVAL TECHNIQUES
If you intend to go off-roading in the snow, it’s as well to learn the basic First Aid requirements for the sort of conditions you can expect, so enrol on a first aid/survial course with one of the country’s specialists. Spending a few hundred quid before you go could make the difference between survival and failure.
Travelling abroad can cause other problems, as you probably can’t speak the language or know the emergency service numbers. These can be found on the internet and notes should be made before starting your journey. Learn the basics for ‘Help, emergency assistance required’ or similar in the languages of the countries you are travelling through. Make sure your mobile(s) work in the countries you’re visiting and you know the various codes, etc. If you’re venturing into remote areas, leave your deatils with the local police, so you may need to know how to say that in their language.
As this is only a brief introduction into the problems you could possibly encounter if you are venturing into cold regions or even driving in the UK in the snows of winter, I would suggest you obatin books on frostbite and hypothermia and study them in great detail. There are also many books and DVDs on survival techniques – try Ray Mears’ books for example. Even a bit of basic knowledge could save your or somebody else’s life…