Rescue Swimmer to Cover Cold Water Immersion in Lecture

O'Brien Starr-Hollow. Kayla Desroches/KMXT
O’Brien Starr-Hollow. Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

A Coast Guard rescue swimmer will give a talk about cold water immersion tonight. O’Brien Starr-Hollow says most people are familiar with the term hypothermia, which is when the body’s core temperature drops and the body fights to rewarm itself. He says the first phase is cold shock.

“That’s just that initial stage of jumping in. You can even do it by putting your hand in a glass of ice water or a pitcher of ice water or better yet dunking your head in a tub of ice water. The more skin that hits the cold water, the more instantaneous the cold shock and the more dramatic the cold shock is.”

He says what follows is inhalation of water, increased heart rate, and elevated respiration. According to scientists, Starr-Hollow says, hypothermia begins when the core body temperature hits 95 degrees and drops from there.

“Your appendages start shutting down, your fingers, you lose your dexterity ‘cause all of that blood is shunted to your core and then you lose your big motor functions, which is your big muscles. You can’t move your mouth very well, you can’t talk very well. So much of your body is just fighting to hold onto its vital organs, your brain.”

Starr-Hollow says the initial treatment for someone experiencing hypothermia is to remove them from water.

“Get them out of the cold environment, get them out of the wet clothes, get them somewhere that they’re warm. The secondary part of the treatment is treat them gently because they have cold fluid in their extremities, they have warm fluid in the chest. If you mix those two fluids, you have the potential for cardiac arrest because you throw cold blood into the heart, into that circulatory system.”

He says it’s important to wear a life jacket, because when a person first hits the water and experiences cold shock, they’ll gasp. And, without a life jacket, their head will dip beneath the surface and they’ll take in a mouthful of water. Starr-Hollow says it takes only a small volume of water to shut the lungs down.

You can learn more by attending the lecture at the Alutiiq Museum beginning at 7 p.m. The event is part of the Alutiiq Museum’s fall lecture series.

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