Winter survival medicine: tips for cold weather.

How Drowning in Cold Water Can Save Your Life

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Real case. A doctor falls through an ice hole while cross-country skiing. They find her body many yards away. It’s been under the ice for over an hour. She is resuscitated. After the ICU, she spends many months in rehab, but in a year she’s back to practicing medicine. A snowmobile accident submerges a man in icy water for an hour. He lives, with no apparent brain damage. It’s rare, but it happens. In normal circumstances the brain can’t go without new oxygen for over six minutes without developing significant damage. How can some people survive an hour of total submersion–seemingly drowned in cold water? Part of the answer is that the rapid cooling can trigger the mammalian dive reflex. […]

By | January 26th, 2012|Cold, Weather|6 Comments

Video: How to Get Yourself Out of a Hole–Ice Hole, That Is

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. In my post "How to Survive If You Fall Into Cold Water," I wrote about what to do if you fall through the ice. My second-born, Beth Nelson—a paramedic in Alaska—sent [...]

By | January 24th, 2012|Cold, Videos, Weather|1 Comment

How to Survive If You Fall Into Cold Water

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. A few days ago, in a nearby town, a man in his forties drowned. Apparently he was chasing his dog, and they fell through the ice. He got the dog out but not himself. Horrible And, although I don’t know any details, it makes me think of the many deaths like this that are preventable. Of course there’s the obvious: Don’t walk on thin ice. The weather’s been pretty warm here in Colorado, and the ice on the ponds is never very thick anyway. But, according to one article I read, our firemen and rescuers spend a fair amount of time chasing people off iced ponds. So what can you do if you or someone else takes an accidental plunge? It helps to know what happens when you fall into cold water. […]

By | January 19th, 2012|Cold, Weather|7 Comments

Hypothermia Treatment, Part Two: How to Treat an Unconscious Person

Fifth of a five-part series about low body temperature. by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. These days it’s not unusual to hear of someone found in the cold, considered dead, who’s then revived. Someone knew how to treat severe hypothermia and didn’t give up. The saying goes, “They’re not dead until they’re warm and dead.” Even so, not everyone is revivable. Most aren’t. Many’s heart just won’t restart, or they may have died from something else and then got cold. But unless you know the cause of death, or you’re not going to be able to warm them up within the next hour or two, keep trying to help the person. […]

By | January 10th, 2012|Cold, Weather|10 Comments

Hypothermia Treatment, Part One: How to Treat a Conscious Person

Fourth of a five-part series about low body temperature. by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. You’re on a hike. The temperature is in the 50s, and it’s a little windy. You slip and fall in a stream, get your pants wet. You start shivering. Your target location’s only half a mile away. Besides, a little cold never hurt anyone. I mean, it’s in the 50s. If you’ve been reading this series on hypothermia, you know that’s not true. You need to head for home or your campsite and get out of those wet clothes. Do it right away because your next symptom could be confusion. Then you’re wandering, lost, getting colder by the minute. Maybe eat something to give your body a little extra fuel to keep generating that heat until you get there. But what if you’re farther away or you’re already getting too cold? Or you’re inside, but there’s inadequate heat? […]

By | January 5th, 2012|Cold, Weather|13 Comments

Symptoms of Hypothermia, or Why You Might Strip in the Snow

Third of a five-part series about low body temperature. by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. In part one of this series about low body temperature, I gave a scenario about staying out in the cold a little too long and becoming nauseous. In the story, the person thinks the problem is an empty stomach. But he’d better watch out. The first symptoms of a low body temperature are often hunger, nausea, and fatigue. Pretty general. And the next thing you know, you’re getting confused. If you’re mentally impaired by drugs, alcohol, disease, or other reasons, you may not even notice there’s a problem. So if it’s below 50 degrees, or you or someone else has other risk factors for low body temperature, be on the watch for symptoms. […]

By | January 3rd, 2012|Cold, Weather|10 Comments

When 50 Degrees Is Too Cold: Causes of Low Body Temperature

Second of a five-part series about low body temperature. by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. You’d think a cold, snowy mountain would be the setting for most deaths from low body temperature (hypothermia). But that’s not the case. Most people die in urban areas—many inside. In fact, almost every year there are deaths in Florida—sometimes even Hawaii. There must be something besides cold weather that can cause a low body temperature. There is. […]

By | December 27th, 2011|Cold, Weather|10 Comments

Low Body Temperature: More Than Frostbite (and More Dangerous)

First of a five-part series about low body temperature. by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Scenario one: You’re out on a morning walk, maybe hunting your breakfast. It’s cool, a little breezy, but not freezing. In fact, you work up a good sweat, take off your coat. You find a spot and sit a bit. You start getting hungry and a little nauseous. It’s that empty stomach. Before long, you get up—but forget your way back home. What’s going on? Scenario two: You visit your great-uncle to ask some advice. He’s getting up there in age but still sharp as a tack. He doesn’t answer the door. You go inside, and you can see your breath. He’s snoring in the bed, covers thrown off, stripped down to his underwear. What’s the deal? Carbon monoxide? Stroke? In both of these scenarios, a low body temperature should be high on your cause list. In medicine we call this hypothermia, and you don’t have to be in a snowstorm or on a mountaintop to get it. in fact, it’s not that unusual to read of hypothermia-related deaths in the Deep South, even Florida. Even Hawaii. Well, how cold is too cold? I’m going to tell you. But first let’s talk about how our body keeps us warm. […]

By | December 22nd, 2011|Cold, Weather|8 Comments

Conquering the Cold with Coors: Not Recommended But Whatever Works

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. As you’ll see in my upcoming five-part series on hypothermia, it’s not the cold weather that gets you. It’s how you handle it. If it were just the cold, the man stuck in his car for three days near Nome, Alaska, would have perished. But he didn’t. Sixty hours in the wilderness. It got down to 17 below zero at night, not even counting windchill.He cranked his car once a day (the gauge was on empty) for a little heat and waited, wearing tennis shoes, jeans, and a cheap coat. No food. How can somebody survive like that? Personally, I think it was the Coors. […]

By | December 20th, 2011|Cold, Weather|10 Comments