Saturday, February 3, 2018

Family Survival of Cold Weather Injuries

By: Sebastian Berry

DISCLAIMER: Instructions and information provided here is not a substitute for professional medical care and treatment. If you are having an emergency, call 911 or your local emergency number for assistance.

I do not claim credit to any images used unless specifically indicated. 

Stacey Lynn, in her previous post, wrote about some general winter safety/survival tips. In this most recent installment of knowledge building, let's talk cold weather injuries (CWI). These kinds of injuries go beyond what the general public would think of. Obviously we have to remember hypothermia and frostbite. We also have to keep in mind those injuries that are related to the cold weather and not just simply caused by the cold.

Thinking outside the box:

  • Injuries from heaters/stoves
  • Cold thermal burns
  • Carbon Monoxide poisoning
  • Injuries/accidents due to reduced physical/mental capacity from cold stress
  • Dehydration
  • Sunburn
  • Snow Blindness
Believe it or not the Army actually knows some stuff about the various types of weather related injuries. Cold weather injuries slide show. The link with the slide show comes from the Army and is a general overview of various CWI and what to do to survive.

Let's start with the obvious-hypothermia. Hypothermia is defined as a core temperature of less than 95F/35C. The gold standard core temperature measurement is a rectal temperature. Believe me, when you tell someone that the first thing to check is a rectal temp, they will do whatever necessary to avoid that. Everyone knew what the silver bullet was, and it wasn't that cold can of Coors Light from the commercials

The premier treatment for hypothermia is rewarming and drying. This is accomplished by almost any method imaginable-from exercise to hot food to warm clothing and shelter. Rewarming must be done slowly however so as not to shock the body with too rapid a change. Getting and staying dry are just as important as getting and staying warm. If you get out of wet clothing to get warm and then get in wet clothing again, you are setting yourself up for failure and becoming a CWI.

If you talk to older folks about what they did to treat hypothermia, many might tell you that you needed to have a shot of brandy or rum. You may feel warmer for a moment from the flush that the alcohol might give but it actually does nothing to help you get warmer. While rewarming, avoidance of alcohol and nicotine are recommended.

Dehydration may seem  easy to prevent but in actuality we as humans suck at realizing we are getting dehydrated. Dehydration is much more sneaky in colder environments. There are many things that contribute to dehydration. Physical activity is probably the easiest to control. As we exert ourselves we use our hydration stores and we also sweat (which can also contribute to hypothermia). By the time you feel thirsty, you are already behind the curve when it comes to keeping hydrated.

Signs and symptoms of dehydration:
  • Increasingly dark color of urine. Clear-->Yellow-->Orange-->Brown
  • Thirst
  • Excessive sweating
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Cramps
In the way back, we used to be given salt tablets to mix in a canteen of water. A simple Google search shows that you can still find re-hydration salts. That has long since gone away in favor of sports drinks or other electrolyte replacements. Of course, the easiest treatment for dehydration is oral re-hydration if it can be tolerated. If not, then IV hydration needs to be accomplished and that is best left to the professionals.

Cold stress is exactly that-the increased stress put on your body by the cold. We hear all the time about folks that keel over and die of heart attacks while shoveling snow. It's more common than you think. So what do we do about it? You have to know your limitations and understand that being in the cold can limit your physical capability significantly.

Keep in mind that the type and amount of clothing you wear is important as well. I'll keep it simple- cotton kills! Yes, cotton is comfy and cozy when it is dry. As you begin to sweat though cotton will hold on to all that moisture making you a prime candidate for hypothermia via conduction and over exertion.

Something that people forget about in the cold are burns. In a previous post I wrote about burns here, any type of "hot" burn can also be caused by the cold. It doesn't matter the type of burn the initial treatment is the same-remove the source of the burn. You may not want to believe it but wearing sunscreen is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer. Some of the worst sunburns I have ever had were on my face after a day on the slopes.

One specific thing to the cold weather is snow blindness. Imagine a sunburn on your eye. It is incredibly irritating and can be very painful. It happens as UV rays are reflected off of snow and into the eye. The simple way to avoid snow blindness is to protect your eyes. I prefer polarized sunglasses and wear them regularly in almost every condition. This is the reason most skiers wear full goggles. Snow blindness is usually temporary and treated with prescription eye ointments.

Here's a breakdown of how to avoid CWI:

  • Stay warm and dry
  • Layer clothing
  • Stay hydrated
  • Avoid over exertion
  • Protect your skin and eyes
Here's the breakdown of how to treat CWI:
  • Get warm and dry
  • Re-hydrate with oral fluids if possible
  • Rest

I've only covered a few things here related to cold weather injuries and how to survive in the cold. What things do you have or do to survive the cold? Tell us in the comments.

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