It is a myth that only rugged mountaineers, climbers, and hikers come down with frostbite and heatstroke–both are serious medical conditions caused by extreme temperatures. The truth is that anyone is vulnerable to these conditions as long as you’re stuck in such weather conditions. Even you, humble RVer, can come down with frostbite or heatstroke–even if you’re not a RVer, it is useful to know the signs and symptoms of both conditions. As weather becomes more unpredictable and extreme, knowing what to do in such situations can prove to save lives.
When in temperatures at or below freezing, protect the skin from exposure–along with wearing thick, winter-appropriate clothing, the most important aspect of preventing frostbite is keeping your clothing as dry as possible. As much as gloves and socks are important, if they get wet, they will facilitate the freezing of flesh, which is exactly what you don’t want happening. Wear waterproof layers if possible. Keep all parts of your body protected, including your head, as ears are especially vulnerable. Bring along back-ups of essential clothing if you can.
It’s also important to keep your blood pumping. As in, exertion and exercise generates warmth and energy. Be well-nourished and well hydrated–if not, the blood thickens, and you will be unable to move as easily.
The first and most important symptom of frostbite is numbness. It generally starts at your extremities–your fingers and your toes. If you can’t feel them at all, you’re in the first stages of frostbite, and you need immediate medical assistance. It’s a good idea to occasionally wiggle your toes, ears, and fingers, and also exercise your facial muscles in order to check for any numbness. Your skin color becomes more waxy and sallow as frostbite takes over–get a buddy so you can check each other for symptoms.
Swollen, blackened tissue and blisters come along after the numbness and paleness. Once you see these, you need to get immediate treatment.
In the situation that there is numbness, move the victim to a warm, dry shelter–if there is none around you, then make one if you have to. Pitch a tent and stay as warm as possible. Take the symptom seriously. If there is some distance before reaching safety, do not stop and thaw the frozen body part if there’s any chance that it will re-freeze. At a safe location, you can begin thawing (which is extremely painful). The best solution would be to immerse the limb in warm water (not hot). If this is not possible, the only other solution would be to take the frozen extremity and keep it beneath your armpit. After thawing, wrap the limb loosely so it doesn’t impede circulation, and take the injured person to a medical professional as soon as possible.
Heatstroke is caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures (most often 90 degrees of more), usually coupled with dehydration. It is also related to heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat syncope, but you can get heatstroke without suffering from any of these conditions.
You can prevent heatstroke by wearing loose, light, airy clothing, hats, and copious amount of sunscreen. Also, you must keep as hydrated as possible–because heat can cause salt depletion, you should also drink electrolyte-rich drinks such as Gatorade or coconut water. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which dehydrate your body. You can tell how hydrated you are by looking at your urine–the more dehydrated you are, the darker your urine becomes.
Fainting is the first sign of heatstroke, but there are also other symptoms: headaches, dizziness, lack of sweating despite heat, muscle weakness or cramps, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat and breathing, confusion or disorientation, and seizures. But the most obvious indication of heatstroke is a core body temperature of above 105 degrees.
In the event of heatstroke, you must take steps to cool the victim as much as possible, to make their body temperature come down to 101-102 degrees. The quickest would be to wet their skin and fan air over them, or immerse them in a cool bath. If you have ice packs, apply them to the victim’s armpits, groin, neck, and back. Then seek medical assistance.