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Medical Tips

By Dr. Jack Ellis - June 12th, 2003

Hypothermia is not an illness that strikes only mountaineers. Some people can become sick from hypothermia in temperatures in the low 50s. Prevention is the best medicine.
  • Wear a synthetic pile or wool sweater. These materials keep you warm even when wet. In addition, the synthetic materials dry very quickly.
  • The worst material is cotton, which loses all of its warmth when wet.
  • If wind or rain is a factor, make sure to bring a shell along.
  • And if you expect temperatures below 40 or so, you should probably consider taking a down parka with you.

Training for the Big Trip
A long hiking trip is just that: walking for a very long time in the outdoors. And that is, in fact, the best way to train for it.

  • Seek opportunities to walk such as going to the store, taking the dog for a walk, or spending some time with a friend.
  • Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
This is great work to prepare for any climbing you may do on your trip. Keep in mind that the better condition you are in, the better you'll feel, and therefore the more fun you'll have.

Clean Water for a Healthy Body
Clean water is essential for good health. But in the outdoors safe water may not be so easy to come by. Three ways to make it safe are:

  • Boil it: This will kill any germ or virus.
  • Filtration: Filters are convenient and easy to use.
  • Chemical Treatment: Tablets and drops can be added.

Poison Ivy

  • Poison ivy and poison oak symptoms can range from an itchy rash to overall body hives.
  • Mild cases will have an itchy rash with blisters and sometimes get a little crusty.
  • Keep the area clean with soap and water.
  • You should probably also treat it with cortisone cream and Benadryl to prevent itching.
  • If your case is more serious you should seek your physician for treatment.

Building a Medical Kit
Here are some general guidelines to follow when putting your medical kit together.

  • Various band-aids, gauze and medical tape.
  • SAM Splint for sprains and fractures.
  • Elastic bandage or ACE bandage.
  • Bring extra medication in case your hike goes longer than expected.

Snake Bites

  • First and foremost, don't panic.
  • One of the best methods is an extractor you can buy at an outdoors store.
  • Select the right sized suction cup, attach it to the syringe, then put it over the bite with the plunger fully extended.
  • Push the plunger in as it begins to suck to your skin.
  • Leave it there for about five minutes and then remove the plunger.
  • Wipe any venom away.
  • Keep the injured part at the same level or below the rest of the body.

Walking outdoors is much more dangerous than walking on a sidewalk. The ground is usually uneven and covered with rocks, roots and puddles. Sprains and fractures are the most common injuries encountered in the outdoors. Prevention comes down to being careful and wearing boots with some ankle support. If a sprain occurs, do whatever you can to keep the area from moving. Remember RICE:

R est
I ce
C ompression
E levation
If you don't feel better after a few days there is probably something more serious going on and you should see your physician.

Lyme Disease
Ticks can be rather unpleasant on their own, but Lyme disease can make you hate them even more. Although cases of Lyme disease have risen, the condition is still very rare. If you are bitten by a tick, wait for signs of a fever or rash within four weeks of when you were bitten. Your physician can administer a blood test in order to make a definite diagnosis.

Monitoring Your Heart Rate
Cardiovascular fitness can ultimately improve your ability to complete a long hike. This fitness is the ability of your heart and lungs to maintain movement over a sustained period of time at a certain level of intensity. If you can comfortably carry on a conversation, then you are probably working at the right intensity. If you can sing a song, then you are probably not working hard enough. And if you are gasping for air, then you are probably working too hard. To regulate your heart rate more accurately, you'll need to find your target heart rate. Once you know this, then you can determine how hard your heart is really working.

Target Heart Rate Formula

220 minus your age (30) = 190 Minus your resting heart rate (62 beats per minute) = 128 Multiply by 60% = 76.8 Add resting heart rate = 138.8 Divide by 6 = 23 (beats every 10 seconds)
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema
The most common serious illness related to altitude is high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). This condition is excess fluid in the lungs caused by ascending elevation too quickly. HAPE is the number-one cause of high-altitude deaths. One of the first signs you may notice is shortness of breath. But for the type of hiking that most of us are doing, deaths are rare. If you think you or your companion are experiencing altitude sickness, the best cure is simply to descend elevation.

If you're planning for a long hike you'd better take the moleskin along. Because no matter how careful you are, chances are you will get a blister. With good preparation, blisters can be easily remedied or avoided so that you can continue to enjoy your hike in the great outdoors.

  • When a blister does occur, cut a piece of moleskin that is large enough to cover the blister evenly on all sides by at least a quarter of an inch.
  • Then cut a small hole in the middle to make room to expose the blister.
  • Make sure you've got clean socks.

Prevention of exhaustion involves a lot of common sense.

  • First and foremost, know your limits.
  • It helps to be in shape and use your fuel efficiently. That's where conditioning comes in.
  • Be prepared with the right clothing and equipment.
  • Continue to fuel up the entire time that you are exercising.
  • Choose foods with sugar for quick energy and carbohydrates for a more sustained fuel source.
  • Water is also necessary for expending any energy and prevents dehydration.

Trying to Beat the Heat
Because we are warm-blooded animals, our bodies perform best when we maintain 98.6¡. However if it is hot outside, then it is difficult for our bodies to keep that temperature. People who are prone to getting hot easily are subject to a number of problems.

  • You should always drink plenty of water because as your temperature rises, you will begin to lose water and could become dehydrated.
  • Wear good protective clothing such as a hat; a thin, light-colored, long-sleeve shirt; and a pair of pants. These items will offer you more protection than shorts and a t-shirt.


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