Hypothermia recognition and treatment can mean life or death for a bass angler. Anglers on all levels are constantly exposed to the environment. Until someone has enough money to build a dome big enough to host an inside tournament, we are exposed to whatever Mother Nature has in store for us. Weather conditions can change rapidly and daily as we all know, and most anglers this winter across the country are not buying any stock in the global warming argument. As I await the next Polar Vortex I thought it might be appropriate to write an article about hypothermia.
Hypothermia Recognition and treatment
Medically, hypothermia is defined as a decline in core temperature. Normal human body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and hypothermia is a core temp under 95. First, a little background on how our body manages heat, or lack thereof; body temperature is the balance between heat production and loss. Heat is generated by cellular metabolism throughout the body but mostly in the heart and liver. Heat is lost by the skin and lungs through evaporation, radiation, conduction (direct transfer to an adjacent cooler object like a boat seat), and convection (direct transfer to currents of air or water). It is important to note that hypothermia can occur any time of the year, especially if your skin is wet and there is wind or air currents blowing on the skin. Causes and factors contributing to the development of hypothermia include: outdoor exposure, cold water submersion, medical conditions (eg, hypothyroidism, sepsis/infection), toxins (eg, ethanol abuse), dehydration, and medications including sedatives and diabetes meds. Risk increases if the ability to autoregulate core temperature is impaired by medications or underlying disease, as is common among elderly patients. If you notice yourself or partner having symptoms, it is best to immediately seek a warm environment or medical care in more severe cases. Try not to exert a hypothermic patient as blood flow to non-essential tissues in the arms and legs can lead to muscle damage from overuse in a hypoxic state.
Now that you know what hypothermia is, it is important to recognize it in case you or your partner experience symptoms. Mild hypothermia presents as increases in breathing rate and heart rate, loss of balance or equilibrium, impaired speech (slurring, word finding difficulty) , impaired judgment, shivering and “cold diuresis” (having to pee). As it progresses, the above symptoms worsen and progress, at times heart and breathing rate will slow to dangerous levels. If shivering stops it is usually a bad sign and further cooling could lead to unconsciousness, and even death. At advanced levels the affected individual requires an emergency room visit for evaluation, monitoring and treatment. Trust me guys, one of the treatments is warm water pumped where the sun doesn’t shine, so please be careful.
As we have discussed in prior articles, the best treatment is prevention. Always have a towel and change of clothes on board in case of falling in, spearing a wave, or heavy rain causing exposure to cold water. One great tip is to visit a sporting goods store and buy a swimmer “shammy”. They are light, small and very effective at drying wet skin. A set of quality rain gear, including pants, keeps water off of your clothes and skin. This is one (another) area of fishing equipment you don’t want to skimp on. Also, invest in some “wicking” type clothing (Under Armour, Nike, Simms, Gill) as the base layer to help pull sweat and water away from the skin where evaporation can occur and cool the temperature. Wear plenty of layers. Remember, heat is lost through skin exposure especially the head and neck which have a lot of blood flow. Good quality wool socks and water proof foot wear with insulation will help keep the feet warm. Using easily acquired hand and foot warmers helps; one good tip is to use a hand warmer on the wrist (palm side) held in place with tape or wrist bands. Avoiding excess alcohol and keeping hydrated with non-caffeinated drinks keeps blood flow to the vulnerable extremities. Coffee or hot chocolate usually contain caffeine; but, if adequately hydrated, drinking something warm can help warm the core as well.
Nobody wants a day on the water spoiled by medical complications, so be aware, be smart and be safe.