Hypothermia is a situation where the core body temperature drops below normal range, as the temperature continues to drop the person experiences different effects. These effects can be felt or seen and some are not so obvious.
Understanding this condition can save your life or that of others. By recognising the signs and by taking the correct actions it can be recovered from.
However, the best course of action is to be prepared and not allow this condition to become a situation.


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Hypothermia is a condition which is not caught or passed on. It is simply where the body is too cold to function normally. Our bodies run at a core temperature (this is the temperature around the chest area and other vital organs) anywhere between 36.5-37.5oC. When exposed to cooler conditions the body is not longer able to maintain its own core temperature and it begins to drop.
As the body cools it begins to shut down the blood vessels to the extremities such as hands and feet. It also begins mechanisms to try to keep the core warm and generate its own heat. The most common and visible sign is shivering. This is where the muscles groups begin to shake and exert energy in order to generate heat.

Shivering is one of the first signs that MILD Hypothermia is happening. Other visible signs of MILD Hypothermia are increase in breathing rate and cold extremities as Vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels). Other symptoms may include an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. However, when exerting energy this can often be missed. These are all a response to the core temperature dropping. At this stage is can also begin to effect mental judgment and discussion making.
Note: If these symptoms begin to happen take steps to remedy the situation by actively keeping the person warm.
The next stage is MODERATE Hypothermia. This is where the shivering becomes more violent. Motor skills and brain functioning becomes slower and can feel quite taxing on the victim. Another visible sign is the extremities such as toes, fingers and lips start to turn blue (this indicates the closing of blood vessels.
If the cooler continues then it can move into SERVERE stage. This is the last step before death and it may not take long. At this point the victim will likely be unable to use any motor function and will start to show blue and puffy skin (if temperature is below 30oC). At this point the pulse begins to slow as well as breathing and the victim can enter a stage of clinical dead.
Also at this stage, it is also good to know some of the actions that some people may take. The first is the victim may begin to remove their clothes, with a reduced mental function some victim feel this is a good idea (IT IS NOT). The other is instinctual, the victim will show burrowing like behaviour and try to find a small space to stay1.

Why should we know?

About this stage some may be wondering what use this information is. With knowledge of what is happening and some of the symptoms associated with common conditions it will help with the recognition should this event occur. It also means that there is an understanding of some of the dangers involved and thus prepared accordingly.
Even if a person is only flying a domestic flight, they should still be prepared should anything happen. If the pilots also understand, it can mean that they will be able to help during an emergency situation and use their knowledge to help people out.
Also do not be fooled into believing this happens only during an emergency because the symptoms can also happen during flying if the pilots are not properly dressed or prepared. It can sometimes go unnoticed because the person may be preoccupied and because it affects mental health it may also lead to bad decisions.
The article is not suggesting that you should dress in wool in order to stay warm. But simply to be prepared should this situation arise.
The most common time that this information may become useful is during an emergency once the aircraft has landed. If the party is simply waiting and staying still, hypothermia can happen rather quickly, especially if the passenger are unprepared.

Prevention / Cure

In the case of hypothermia, a bit of prep can go a longer way, whenever considering a trip (or Flight), have a think about the clothes you are wearing and the conditions you may be facing. For example, if the flight takes the aircraft over forest or barren terrain make sense there is a jersey or other warm clothing easily accessible so that if the symptoms show then the appropriate action can be taken.
The best types of clothing are wool and synthetic fibres, these materials have good warming properties even when wet. Avoid cotton and denim because they will make a person very cold when wet.
NOTE: Alcohol will complicate any hypothermic situation, and will quicken the effects. Therefore, be careful with alcohol consumption 2.
If you do come across a person who is hypothermic or you begin to feel yourself showing symptoms then it is time to take action. The quicker the person regains heat the better.
First step is to remove wet clothes and replace them with dry well insulated clothes and move them to a sheltered area away from wind and rain.
If the person is only mildly hypothermic, then they can use their own body heat to recover. However, assistance will not go amiss. If the person is beyond that point, then the best course of action is to use other warming methods (there are devices that can help such as Bair Hugger devices). However, if these are not available then a hot water bottle between the legs and armpits can also help. Another method is to use shared bodily heat. This means skin to skin contact with another person who is warm, generally wrapped in a survival blanket or sleeping bag. Be Careful that the person who is trying to do the warming does not them self become hypothermic. The more warm bodies the better.
DO NOT Warm too quickly. Too much heat can make things worse. Warm slowly
Past a certain stage these methods may be futile. The only course of action is to internally warm the victim with an intravenous warm fluids. Unfortunately this is likely not to be available. Therefore, the best course of action is to be prepared3.


Hypothermia can cause bad situation to become worse, however, it is easily preventable by taking a few preparation steps before going out.

  • First make sure warm clothing is easily available so that if a person starts to get cold then they can be warmed up.
  • Second, if anyone finds themselves in a situation where this may become a problem, they should make sure a few thing happen.
  • Find shelter away from the wind and rain.
  • Stay as dry as possible.
  • If safe and possible, light a small fire, if not stay huddled.

Treat the cold early, staying warm is the key.

1. Wiki (2011). Hypothermia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypothermia
2. Kortelainen ML. (1987) Drugs and alcohol in hypothermia and hyperthermia related deaths: a retrospective study. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3430138
3. DOH (2007) How to prevent hypothermia. retrieved from http://www.doh.wa.gov/phepr/generalfactsheets/hypothermia.htm

Want to know more?

More indepth information about Hypothermia
Equipment that can be used http://www.hypothermia.org/
List of Things
This has a list of useful items when preparing to face the cold. http://www.ehow.com/how_6314_prevent-hypothermia.html

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