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How Cold is Too Cold?

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Ice Diving is the epitome of cold water diving

Divers Alert Network Tips

Whether you’re using the latest heated undergarments, or warm thoughts and your favorite wetsuit to get in the water this winter, it’s important you understand exactly how cold is too cold. Pushing the limits of yourself and your exposure protection on a blistery winter morning can easily lead to near hypothermic conditions which will affect your pulmonary system’s ability to washout gas, your dexterity, and your decision making. If these symptoms are allowed to progress further, serious health implications are likely. Because one of the first symptoms of serious hypothermia is a reduced level of consciousness, many individuals fail to recognize the symptoms in themselves until their buddy draws attention to them. Know what to look for in yourself, and in your dive buddies this winter, and keep diving safely year ‘round.

What is hypothermia?

You’ve likely had some exposure to hypothermia – it’s the result of a drop of core body temperature. It can happen in the arctic, or in warm tropical waters with inadequate exposure protection – given a long enough exposure. It’s of particular concern for those lost at sea, divers in remote areas, or those diving in extreme conditions. As a baseline, a typical adult maintains a core temperature of about 98.6°F. When this core temperature drops below 95°F, hypothermia begins to set in and the body begins to lose function. To keep the core warm, the body will begin to shunt blood to the core, and you’ll feel the initial symptoms of hypothermia – shivering, dizziness, nausea, and feelings of hunger. If that core temperature is allowed to continue dropping, many individuals will stop shivering at 86°F, and their pupils will dilate. At 82°F, their muscles will become rigid and they’ll be at a serious risk of cardiac complications. These symptoms will worsen as core temperature continues to drop, so it’s vital that individuals suffering from hypothermia be identified and brought to qualified medical care as rapidly as possible.

Learn to beat the cold

Hypothermia can be serious, but it’s not something that a well-prepared diver should have to contend with in all but the most extreme situations. Plan ahead with appropriate exposure protection, heat sources, and a well thought-out emergency action plan for if things get a little too chilly. Bringing hot water to make a warm drink, or fill your wetsuit between dives, is one way that you can make yourself more comfortable, and keep yourself warm on a day when it looks more like a winter wonderland than a diver’s paradise outside. If you or your buddy begins shivering before, or during a dive, terminate your dive in a safe manner, and warm up while reconsidering whether or not you’ll be warm enough on your next dive. You can always come back on a warmer day – there’s no sense in subjecting yourself to risk for the sake of one more dive.

For more information on safe diving practices, visit www.dan.org/health.