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.
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
Severe hypothermia has the following symptoms:
Treatment is relatively straightforward: warm the victim.
- Shivering has stopped
- Blue lips and fingertips
- Sleepiness / Lethargy
- Lack of coordination
- Unable to concentrate or answer simple questions
- The victim reports feeling warm and comfortable
- Get the victim to warm shelter, if possible.
- Remove any wet clothing and wrap the victim in blankets or sleeping bags.
- Feed the victim high-energy food such as chocolate or hard candy.
- Give the victim hot, sugar-heavy drinks such as hot chocolate.
- Rub the victim's skin vigorously to encourage circulation.
- Construct a heat tent with a trash bag and a candle.
- Use your own body to warm the victim by hugging him. Direct skin contact is best.
- 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
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:
- Pale or grey coloring of skin
- Hard, solid, cold tissue
Frostbite most commonly occurs on exposed skin such as the nose, cheeks and ears.
To treat frostbite in those areas:
When evaluating the frostbite, attempt to determine how deeply the skin has been
- Cover the exposed areas to protect them from further damage.
- Seek shelter to evaluate the injury.
- If just the surface has been frozen, it may be gently rewarmed by placing a bare
hand over the affected area and very
gently rubbed by the victim.
This will encourage circulation and healing.
Being gentle is very important -- the skin is damaged
and vigorous rubbing will cause further injury. Having the victim do this is best
because he will be able to be gentle enough to prevent causing pain.
- If the tissue beneath the surface has been frozen or an extremity has frozen,
do not thaw it. This type of frostbite is life-threatening.
Seek medical attention immediately.
- If you cannot determine the depth of the damage, assume the tissue has been
frozen solid and seek medical attention immediately.
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
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