Don’t underestimate the power of cold or freezing water. It can be more dangerous than you realize. In fact, cold water shock can be a killer.
What is Cold Water Shock?
Cold water shock, or “cold shock response” as it’s sometimes called, is a quite common cause of death for a person who ends up suddenly immersed in frigid water. Put plainly, the human body’s immediate natural reaction to a sudden dunking can prove fatal. You see, the shock can trigger an unprepared person to automatically gasp for a breath of air. If you’re underwater at that moment, you might accidentally inhale a gulp of water instead of oxygen. Without proper conditioning or assistance, it is easy to see how this involuntary reaction can lead to fatal drowning.
That first accidental breath isn’t the only danger. When a person experiences cold water shock, he or she may begin to hyperventilate and lose mobility in their arms and legs. Often, this makes victims feel as though they are suffocating. If swimming alone, this can place a victim in grave danger. The person will not be able to escape the water, call for help or even stay afloat until the initial shock finally subsides. Sadly, by that point, it may be too late.
How Cold is Too Cold?
Water is considered “cold” when it dips below 77 degrees. Now, remember that 77 degrees is the starting point. This is the temperature where the body will not be able to generate enough heat to keep warm. The body has some security measures in place that can work against someone in a cold water shock situation. When the temperature drops, the body will automatically enter a sort of emergency heat conservation mode. It will attempt to secure the major internal organs by limiting the flow of blood to the extremities. That’s good news for the heart and lungs… but not so great for a frosty swimmer struggling with cold water shock.
As you may have guessed, the further down the thermometer drops, the faster the cold will affect the body. Eventually, all of this cold can lead to a case of hypothermia. This needs to be treated immediately.
At Life Saver Pool Fence, we’re always highly concerned with water safety. This is why it is always important to swim with a buddy, preferably someone who knows how to recognize the signs of drowning.
Part of the danger here is, well, the shock of sudden immersion. If you must swim in colder water, you’ll be at less risk by taking it slow. This gives your body more time to acclimate to the chilly water. No matter how warm the outside air may be, don’t assume that the water is going to share that same warmth. The difference can be much greater than you expect. If you’re venturing in, take a few practice runs to let your body acclimate to the temperature.
Of course, that assumes that you want to swim in cold water. Many times, cold water shock happens by complete accident. For instance, when a person falls through the ice. As summer draws to a close, this is definitely something to keep top-of-mind. We must beware a false sense of security. When the temperature drops and the water begins to freeze, you might be tempted to walk out on the ice, and can potentially fall into the icy water.
Finally, boating safety is another key thing to remember. It’s always important to wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket. If your boat or kayak overturns, this device can easily save your life by keeping you afloat during those crucial first moments.
Overall, plan ahead and be aware of your surroundings. If you’re going to be in a situation where falling into cold water is a possibility, take some precautions to save yourself from drowning.