What are the signs of hypothermia?

Hypothermia can be a an issue for open-water swimmers, particularly those who swim at lower temperatures. John Wood explains the signs and what to do if someone your swimming with starts to show symptoms

Ross Edgley getting warm and checked after spending hours swimming in cold water. Credit: Red Bull

Hypothermia can be an issue for swimming in lower temperatures, but if properly aware of yours/your companion’s body signals serious issues can be avoided. Here are a few ways to spot the signs:

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Mild hypothermia: uncontrollable shivering and numbness, loss of simple coordination.

Moderate hypothermia: confusion and strange inebriated-like behaviour, slurred speech.

Severe hypothermia: blue-grey skin, slow or halted breathing, loss of consciousness.

Increasing your activity level won’t warm up your core body temperature, so it’s unlikely to delay the onset of hypothermia. You’re more likely to burn more energy quickly so will hit any issues sooner.

If you begin to feel mild hypothermia, or suspect that there may be an issue, one trick is to count up to 10 and back to one repeatedly. Issues with losing count or your thoughts are indications that you should get out of the water. Once you exit, immediately dry off and wrap up in plenty of towels, warm clothing and hats.

Once you exit the water, immediately dry off and wrap up in plenty of towels, warm clothing and hats (It’s a myth that you lose more heat via your head – but its an area of the body that doesn’t always get covered, so it enables extra warmth to leave the body).

If you – or your friends get to the state of severe issues, ensure that the victim stays conscious and communicative and make sure that medical attention is on its way quickly.

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Things here can sound scary, but onset occurs far slower than you might think – so if you are aware, there is plenty of time to rationalise your thoughts and take appropriate action.

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