With Dr. Joshua Rankin
Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, I gotta believe we are due for a cold snap in February. Old man winter ain’t going down without a fight! I’ve been super cold many many times in the outdoors but one occasion really comes to mind. I was a backpacking guide for two summers in Colorado. During my very first guide training trip I got hypothermia. I mumbled, stumbled & fumbled my way right into base camp! It was the pits but a real learning experience. Since then I’ve never had it again. I’ve learned the signs and became a better manager of sweat, layering and physical exertion. This month is usually a rough one and we cyclists are throwing ourselves out there for hours on end getting ready for spring races. So, I checked in with Dr. Rankin for any tips on how to steer clear of hypothermia.
OCA: What is hypothermia?
Josh: Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it causing a low core body temperature. It is defined as a core body temperature less than 95.0 °F. There are several stages and degrees of hypothermia, but we’ll limit this discussion to the mild-moderate range as this is what we as cyclists/runners would be most likely to deal with and encounter in others while training.
OCA: Are those exercising in the cold more prone to get it?
Josh: Anyone spending a lot of time in a cold environment is at an increased risk. And it really doesn’t have to be very cold for someone to develop hypothermia (e.g. if you’re in mild temps and get caught in a rain shower). Radiative heat loss occurs primarily from the head and non-insulated areas of the body and accounts for more than 50 percent of heat loss. Convective heat loss occurs with the movement of air, carrying significantly more heat away from the body in windy conditions by rapidly removing the warm, insulating layer of air that initially is in direct contact with the skin. This mechanism also explains the significance of wind chill, because the amount of heat carried away from the body is proportional to wind speed.
OCA: What are the signs/symptoms of hypothermia?
Josh: Symptoms of mild-moderate hypothermia include shivering; increased blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate; and contraction of blood vessels leading to cold hands and feet. Pale and cyanotic (blue) skin can develop. Some people begin to have confusion with moderate hypothermia.
OCA: If we show signs of hypothermia (or come across someone who does) what should we do?
Josh: The first step (and the most obvious) is to get them inside and out of the cold to initiate rewarming. Any wet clothes should be removed and replaced with dry clothing or blankets. Warm beverages will help the rewarming process. Also, as athletes may have depleted their glycogen stores leading to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) which can lead to hypothermia, some type of carbohydrate/glucose intake should be encouraged.
OCA: How can we prevent it?
Josh: The Boy Scout in me says “Be Prepared”. You should plan ahead for what temperatures and weather you’ll be training in. Very little has been as miserable to me as being underdressed for a ride and having to ditch early and ride home with numb hands and feet. If it’s cold AND windy AND a good chance of me getting wet, I’m on the trainer. But if you do go out, layering up is key. A good wicking base layer is essential; then a good insulating layer; and then something to block the wind. Cotton clothes should be avoided as if it gets wet, it stays wet, and it doesn’t provide much protection from the wind. As you’ve stated previously in your blog, a warm/hot drink in a thermal bottle is a great idea on a ride.
To see the previous post on Steering Clear of Getting Sick with Dr. Rankin click here.
Looking for a doctor who understands the athletes’ lifestyle? Check him out, click here.
Dr. Joshua Rankin
FirstCare Family Doctors – Tontitown, a MANA Clinic
171 N. Maestri Rd.
Springdale, AR 72762
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