Bite Size Bushcraft – Signs and Treatment of Hypothermia

Cold Kills

Bite Size Bushcraft – Signs and Treatment of Hypothermia

A summary of symptoms, signs and Treatment of Hypothermia

Hypothermia is one of the most common killers outdoors. Everyone needs to know how to prevent it and treat it. Start explaining to children cold kills and when you send them out make sure they have suitable clothing. I once saw a boy on a Cub Scout camp get slightly wet, it wasn’t cold but there was a strong breeze blowing. The boy didn’t have a suitable coat. The leaders there recognised the symptoms quickly and got the boy warm using the following treatment.

Always plan your actions using the survival priorities.

Hypothermia – Mild Symptoms

  • Shivering
  • Cold, pale skin
  • Paleness/blueness of lips and extremities
  • Fast breathing
  • lethargy

Hypothermia – Mild Treatment

  • STOP!
  • Seek shelter
  • Extra layers
  • Food & hot drinks (although often it is said that caffeine should be avoided because it is a diuretic, if it is the only hot drink available then it will still help the casualty!)

Hypothermia – Moderate Symptoms

  • Uncontrollable and violent shivering
  • Pale, cold skin
  • Blue lips
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of co-ordination
  • Stumbling
  • Confusion
  • Loss of motor skills; fumbling of easy tasks
  • Irrational behaviour (e.g. stripping off clothes)

Hypothermia – Moderate Treatment

  • As for Mild Hypothermia
  • Monitor carefully
  • If the casualty stops shivering, check that they really have warmed up before deciding to walk off. i.e. are they looking warmer, do they feel warmer to touch? Is their skin pinker? are they back to their usual character? (because casualties also stop shivering in Severe Hypothermia)

Hypothermia – Severe Symptoms

  • Shivering ceases
  • Cold, pale skin
  • Blue lips
  • Dilated pupils and not reacting to light
  • Unconscious and unresponsive
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Breathing and pulse may be undetectable

Hypothermia – Severe Treatment

  • Move as little and gently as possible
  • Insulate from ground and air with as many layers as possible (but do not make big movements of the casualty)
  • Glucose gels smeared on the gums might possibly help (mixed research results!) however,do not try to force feed an unresponsive casualty!
  • Shelter
  • Do not do CPR (you may not be able to detect the pulse and breathing although it may be present) N.B. a Casualty is never Cold and Dead, only Warm and Dead.
  • Protect the Airway; Safe Airway Position
  • 999!!!

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