February 2016

The Dangers of Hypothermia

Freezing temperatures can not only make us uncomfortable, but can be dangerous as well. A drop in body temperature can cause the heart and other organs to work inefficiently. An extreme drop can lead to hypothermia, which can totally shut down the heart and respiratory system and lead to death. Of course, the elderly and infants are more at risk, but even young, healthy people can be affected, especially if alcohol is consumed.

Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition that needs immediate emergency medical intervention. At first, mild symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, some shivering, fatigue, an increased heart rate and faster breathing may appear. As it progresses, slow, shallow breathing, slurred speech, confusion, loss of coordination, shivering, and a slow, weak pulse can occur. If you notice someone having any of these symptoms, get medical help as soon as possible.

However, if emergency assistance is not immediately available, it’s important to warm the person quickly and get him into a heated, dry place if possible. Remove any wet garments and replace with dry clothing and blankets. If conscious, you can give warm liquids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine. If nothing else is available, you can use your own body heat to try to warm the person. With severe cases of hypothermia, shivering may stop and loss of consciousness, along with insufficient or non-existent breathing and pulse, may follow. In this case, 911 should be called and CPR initiated.

If you have to be out in cold weather, there are things you can do to prevent hypothermia. As per the Mayo Clinic guidelines, “before you or your children step out into cold air, remember the advice that follows with the simple acronym COLD — cover, overexertion, layers, dry.” First and foremost, wear a hat. This will prevent body heat from escaping through your head and face. Choose mittens instead of gloves, which by keeping your fingers in contact will be more effective at keeping your hands warm. If exercising, take it easy. The more you sweat the wetter your clothing will become, therefore increasing loss of body heat. Layer on the clothes, and choose wool, silk and polypropylene which are best at retaining body heat. Keep yourself and your clothing as dry as possible. With a little preparation, you can stay safe and warm this winter season.

The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad is a volunteer organization of Neighbors Helping Neighbors. With more than 90 volunteers, the squad answers calls not only in Scotch Plains but in surrounding towns as well when needed. Besides answering calls, ambulances can be seen at many special events held in town, such as Scotch Plains Day, the Memorial Day Parade, high school football games, and the summer concerts on the Village Green. The squad is also available to provide demonstrations for Boys and Girls Scout troops, clubs, and any other group that may be interested in what we do. In addition, the squad has lent out wheelchairs, crutches, canes and other assorted medical equipment free of charge. Email scotchplainsrescuesquad@gmail.com or call 908-322-2103 for non-emergencies.