First Aid Merit Badge
Burns Cold Injuries Internal Injuries
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First Aid merit badge 5a. Describe symptoms, treatment and prevention of: Hypothermia

First Aid merit badge 5c. Describe symptoms, treatment and prevention of: Frostbite

Tenderfoot 12b: Show first aid for: Frostbite

Second Class 6C: Show first aid for: Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when the body becomes too cold to function normally. Hypothermia is much more serious than simply being chilled; the body has given up its fight to stay warm.

Severe hypothermia has the following symptoms:

Treatment is relatively straightforward: warm the victim.
  1. Get the victim to warm shelter, if possible.
  2. Remove any wet clothing and wrap the victim in blankets or sleeping bags.
  3. Feed the victim high-energy food such as chocolate or hard candy.
  4. Give the victim hot, sugar-heavy drinks such as hot chocolate.
  5. Rub the victim's skin vigorously to encourage circulation.
  6. Construct a heat tent with a trash bag and a candle.
  7. Use your own body to warm the victim by hugging him. Direct skin contact is best.
  8. Seek medical assistance.

Severe hypothermia is life-threatening. Always seek medical treatment for severe hypothermia, even if the victim appears to recover.

Preventing hypothermia involves taking care to wear appropriate clothing in the cold and planning ahead in case anyone gets wet. Having food, blankets and shelter nearby is essential.

Frostbite is the opposite of a burn: when the skin and underlying tissue has been damaged or destroyed by being frozen.

Symptoms of frostbite include:

Frostbite most commonly occurs on exposed skin such as the nose, cheeks and ears. To treat frostbite in those areas:

  1. Cover the exposed areas to protect them from further damage.
  2. Seek shelter to evaluate the injury.
When evaluating the frostbite, attempt to determine how deeply the skin has been frozen.

Preventing frostbite to exposed skin involves wearing appropriate clothing or equipment to cover skin in cold weather. Seek shelter occassionally to warm up and rest.

Preventing frostbite to extremities requires changing any wet clothing immediately and stopping occassionally to check feet and hands for damage. When hiking in the cold, frostbite can attack feet without the victim feeling the damage until it is too late.

©2005 Sam Clippinger / samc (at) troop50 (dot) org
Last updated: 12/9/2005