Sunday, January 1, 2012

How to prevent, treat hypothermia in kids

Avoid hypothermia by not getting wet.
Photo courtesy of kangotraveler / Photoree.
The opposite of heat exhaustion, when a child has hypothermia, the body can’t maintain its normal temperature. Our normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees; when it falls just 1.6 degrees, we can start to feel negative effects. If the body drops just 3.6 degrees, it can cease to function.Hypothermia happens because heat loss from the body occurs faster than the body can keep up, usually when a person is in wet, cold air or clothes.

You can avoid hypothermia by ensuring your children wear adequate clothing and then layered clothing, including a hat, which can decrease heat loss from body. For infants, change diapers immediately, as the wetness can be a source of chill. Also, eat high energy foods on the hike and drink plenty of fluids. When taking rest stops on cooler days, have kids immediately put on their hats and an extra layer of clothing before they get cold, as it will be difficult for their chilled bodies to play catch up.

If a trip into a lake or stream is part of the hike, carry a bathing suit or swimming trunks. Going into water with jeans will mean wet pants, and hypothermia is possible even on a warm day.

Signs of hypothermia include a loss of normal level of consciousness, loss of normal coordination, uncontrollable shivering, and a slow, weak pulse. Victims usually deny they are cold and even become combative about it. That’s because their body is confused, so they think they are hot.

To treat for hypothermia, change the victim into dry clothing and snuggle to warm them up. You might cover them with a space blanket. Always seek immediate medical assistance. Handle a victim gently as movement increases the heart rate.

Finally, don’t make the error of believing that children can simply keep warm by continuing to walk. By walking, they’re actually expending energy needed to keep warm.

Read more about day hiking with children in my guidebook Hikes with Tykes.