How To Avoid, Recognise and Treat Hypothermia

Essentially, hypothermia is the condition of having a low core body temperature.

Cool to cold temperatures, light precipitation, exposure to wind, prolonged exercise coupled with reduced energy levels can give rise to this condition.

Generally runners and athletes in shorter events do not suffer from this condition. However if the event is long and and energy supplies dwindle, athletes may slow down and cool down, which is where the issue can arise, especially with the onset of nightfall.

Hydration, nutrition, proper clothing, layering and good rest management are all key to preventing hypothermia. Learn how to prevent, recognise, and treat this backcountry threat.

To understand prevention, it’s best to know what causes hypothermia:
  • Inadequate protection from exposure
  • Lack of proper hydration and nutrition
  • Improper planning for the activity or the conditions

When athletes compete in cool weather, if the exercise rate is high enough and breaks are short, the body will keep itself warm (provided there is enough fuel and water on board). But down time due to unexpected delays, extended time out due to conditions or human factors, and lack of extra food and clothing are common situations that heighten risk of exposure. Hypothermia is often a secondary problem that arises after a separate issue, such as a twisted ankle, soft tissue injuries, gear malfunctions or you just need a break to get back onto your 'A' game.

Look at the weather forecast and plan accordingly. Regardless of the forecast, having extra layers, food and water is always a good idea.

We require you to carry a wet weather jacket on this event.

If you or someone in your group ends up with serious hypothermia, it’s a true “stop and fix” situation.

Preventative steps
  • Hydration and nutrition. Have extra snacks and water, and keep them handy.
  • Proper clothing. Remember that “cotton kills.” When you might run into rain or extremely cold conditions, it's best to wear synthetic materials or wool, which, unlike cotton, can keep you warm even when wet.
  • Proper layering. Know how and when to make adjustments.
  • Good rest management. Pick rest stops that are sheltered, encourage eating and hydration at each stop, but keep break times short.

Despite good planning, sometimes the best intentions don’t pan out. Or, you may come across a hiker from another party who you may suspect is in trouble. What are the signs to look for?

Signs and symptoms of mild hypothermia
  • The “Umbles”: stumbles, mumbles, grumbles, fumbles.
  • Shivering and feeling cold.
  • Changes in personality, especially quiet.
  • Body temperature that is lower than normal, but usually above 32-33 degrees C.
Signs and symptoms of severe hypothermia
  • Body temperature below 32 degrees C
  • Incoherence
  • Paradoxical undressing
Treatment of mild hypothermia
  • Get out of areas of exposure
  • Add insulating clothing layers
  • Replace wet base layers with dry ones
  • Exercise in short bursts to generate heat
  • Treat dehydration and ensure that adequate energy is on board
  • A warm soup or drink- milo or coffee.
If the hypothermic condition is not rectified and becomes severe you will need to call for assistance and get out of there, do not continue with this severe condition and make sure that you are adequately prepared.
  • Have communication on you ie- Mobile Phone.
  • Have the race organiser's number.
  • Have the correct gear for the conditions.
  • Do your own research.
  • Enquire of more experienced runners. One such runner is Scott Whimpey of First Aid Accident & Emergency, our First Aid proider. Feel free to call Scott for advice on 0427 026 563.