When a disaster drives us from the shelter of our homes, forced to bug-out in a hurry the family is subjected to the elements whatever they may hold in store. In the middle of summer, marching out with hefty packs strapped to their backs the situation is ripe for someone succumbing to heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Winter conditions present problems from the opposite end of the spectrum, exposing anyone without shelter to freezing temperatures, temperatures of which an unprepared body may not be able to cope. Laid atop these worries and the possibility of injury is the specter of shock anyone can fall victim to spurred by any given body jarring event. As concerning these problems may be, knowing how to provide first aid within those critical moments can make the difference between life and death.
In this, the third in US Preppers’ four-part First Aid series, we will delve into recognizing the signs and symptoms of traumatic shock, heatstroke, hypothermia and frostbite and how to provide initial treatment and care to those afflicted by these conditions.
First Aid for Shock
- extra clothing or sleeping bag
- an object to prop up legs
Assume shock will occur with any traumatic injury, after significant blood loss, may accompany heat stroke or potentially any other body jarring incident. Shock occurs when there is not sufficient blood circulating throughout the body. It can cause organ shutdown and heart failure. If untreated, this can lead to permanent organ damage or even death.
Be aware of the signs of shock include:
- Cool, clammy skin
- Pale appearance
- Rapid pulse and/or breathing
- Nausea and possibly vomiting
- Dilated pupils
- Weakness, lightheadedness or fainting spells
- Behavioral changes with increased anxiety or agitation, confusion
After any traumatic injury or if any of these symptoms are present take the following precautions to guard against shock:
1) Lay the victim down and raise their legs above the level of the heart. In this position, the legs do not need to be raised very high. Prop the up on a couple of pillows or another person’s lap. This will improve blood flow to the brain and the body’s core. (Do not attempt if there is a head, neck, torso, hip or leg injury)
2) Loosen tight or restrictive clothing.
3) Keep the victim warm by covering them with a blanket or extra clothing and do not move them unless there is imminent danger.
4) If the victim is vomiting or bleeding from their mouth turn them on their side. If injuries prevent this turn the person’s head and take measures to ensure they do not choke.
5) Provide first aid to obvious injuries.
6) Seek out medical attention as soon as possible.
Should you find yourself alone in such a situation, treat yourself for shock by following the same steps. Elevate your legs above the heart or position yourself at a decline (downhill). Keep warm by covering yourself in a blanket or crawling into a sleeping bag.
***Always assume shock is a threat and take precautions to prevent its onset***
Heatstroke and Hypothermia
Heatstroke (or hyperthermia) and hypothermia occupy opposite ends of the spectrum but deserve equal precaution and attention. Both are instances of a body unable to regulate a stable temperate, either unable to cool down or warm up, most likely caused by outside conditions.
- Cool water
- cloth to douse
- ice packs (optional)
- shaded or air conditioned area
- nonalcoholic, non-caffeinated drinks
Heatstroke occurs when your body temperature rises to abnormally high levels and it’s unable to cool down. The condition usually occurs due to overexertion while not taking in enough fluids or being in an overheated environment for too long. The elderly frequently become victims of heat stroke during summer months in a residence with no air conditioning. All too often people exerting themselves in hot temperatures ignore the initial signs until it becomes life-threatening with the potential to cause damage to the brain and vital organs. These signs and symptoms of this form of hyperthermia are:
- Sudden dizziness
- slurred speech or mumbling after an extended period in a hot environment
- Hot, dry skin or lack of sweating
- Flushed skin
- Rapid pulse
- Rapid breathing
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fainting (possibly the first sign in older adults)
- Fever of 104 F or greater
Seek out medical attention if the more serious symptoms manifest if the person does not respond to first aid measures or symptoms worsen. The focus of first aid efforts is to cool the person down in any possible way. In any case, begin first aid immediately;
1) Get the person out of the heat, into the shade or into an air-conditioned area.
2) Remove unnecessary clothing.
3) Sponge with cool water.
4) Fan while misting with cool water.
5) Place ice packs or cool wet towels on the neck, armpits and groin.
6) Cover with cool damp sheets.
7) If the person is conscious and able to, allow them to drink nonalcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids (approximately 32 fl oz (1 L) to 64 fl oz (2 L) over 1 to 2 hours)
DO NOT immerse the victim in cold, ice water.
Guard against the onset of heat stroke by staying aware of your surroundings, to the temperature, to the physical exertion you and your family are subjected to. Drink plenty of water while avoiding alcoholic and caffeinated fluids due to their dehydrating qualities. Watch one another for symptoms of exhaustion and heatstroke.
- Warm dry shelter
- dry coverings (blanket, sleeping bag, extra clothing)
- nonalcoholic, non-caffeinated drinks (if the person is conscious)
When a person’s body is unable to produce sufficient heat to counter heat loss, hypothermia will set in at varying levels of severity. An elderly person or infant child left in a cold room overnight can develop mild hypothermia. As hypothermia worsens pronounced symptoms present themselves:
- Shivering, (a sign that the person’s heat regulation system is still working) but may stop as hypothermia worsens
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Slurred speech or mumbling
- Fumbling hands or stumbling, general loss of coordination
- Confusion and memory loss
- A slow or weak pulse
- With severe hypothermia, a person may be unconscious without obvious signs of breathing or a pulse
- Watch infants for cold-to-touch skin, bright red appearance and unusually low energy
With the onset of these symptoms begin providing first aid to the victim(s):
1)Help the person to a warm, dry place. The nearest place may be a tent or other temporary shelter.
2)Remove any wet clothing and replace with dry clothes, blankets or into a sleeping bag.
3)Offer warm, nonalcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids if the person is able to drink.
If there is no shelter available and you’re exposed to the elements locate a place out of the winds. Build a fire to warm the person and yourself. If a sleeping bag and tarp is available, zip the person into the sleeping bag and wrap the tarp around them to help reduce heat loss.
- Warm dry shelter
- warm water or other warm heat source
- dry sterile dressing
- gauze pads or cotton balls
Typically occurring in the extremities (fingers, toes) as well as ears, noses and cheeks, the skin first becomes very cold and red, then numb, and finally hard and pale when tissue has frozen. While there is little first aid for the latter, there are actions to take before freezing sets in and the person can receive medical care;
1) Retreat to a warm place and remove any wet clothing
2) Avoid walking on frostbitten feet or toes.
3) Only attempt to warm the affected areas if you are able to keep them warm. Re-cooling and re-warming may cause further damage.
4) Use warm (not hot) water to warm the afflicted area or with an alternate heat source until the skin appears red and warm. Another option is to hold the problem area to your body and breath on it through cupped hands.
Do not expose to direct heat from heating pads, radiator, or fires.
Do not try to rub or massage the affected area or break blisters.
5) Using loosely wrapped, dry sterile dressing, bandage the area. Place gauze or other sterile dressing between toes or fingers to keep the separated.
Take these lessons, familiarize yourself with the steps provided, include the family in their practice and stow them away in a safe place to refer to when problems strike. Then keep an eye open for the fourth and final installment in our First Aid for Preppers series when we’ll look into insect and animal bites along with those stomach bugs that cause so many problems at the worst possible times.