Hypothermia - What you need to know

Explanation: One of the biggest risks in swimming over long distances is hypothermia. Before your Port to Pub swim, it is crucial you know what it is, signs and symptoms, and how to treat it.

Hypothermia is a significant risk for solo swimmers who are in the water for a very long time, but similarly for teams of four and six, whose members are spending a lot of time on the boat and exposed to the wind.

Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature falls below 37 °C. You don’t have to be in freezing conditions to risk hypothermia as it only requires the environmental temperature to be less than your body temperature for you to ‘donate’ heat to the atmosphere.

Symptoms of hypothermia include

  1. Shivering, cold, pale, and dry skin
  2. Tiredness, confusion, and irrational behaviour – inability to answer simple questions
  3. Slow and shallow breathing
  4. Slow and weakening pulse
  5. Refusing food or drinks between swims might be a sign something is wrong

First aid

  • In case of suspected hypothermia, radio call the Port to Pub Swim base on VHF Channel 77 and request urgent medical aid and await instructions and directions. You may be advised to return to the mainland even if you are closer to Rottnest.
  • Wrap patient in towels and blankets and protect them from wind as much as you can.
  • Port to Pub will be supplying all swimmers with a space/thermal blanket this year to use in the case of hypothermia
  • Change them into dry clothes
  • Offer a warm drink and high energy food like chocolate. Encourage them to eat and drink small quantities of warmed fluids frequently
  • Handle the patient gently so as not to cause disturbances in heart rhythm. Keep the person calm, still, awake and don’t let them sleep.
  • Don’t rub or massage them
  • Do not give them alcohol as it increases the heat loss rate by dilating the skin’s blood vessels.
  • If a swimmer has wool fat or lanolin on them, leave it on and dress them in an old tracksuit which can be thrown away. The fat will help to retain their body warmth until they get to a hot shower.

If unconscious: place the swimmer in the coma position, maintain the airway and do not give fluids or food.

Feb 15 2018 - 5:45pm