Injuries from the Polar Bear Plunge injury

With the advent of a new year, the rage is to do a polar bear plunge for charity. This is when a group of seemingly normal people decide to to jump into freezing cold water. They do this in the dead of winter and enjoy the experience. One of the participants from this year said:

You have no clue as to what we are about to do. These people are getting ready (to take the plunge), and we don’t have a plan.

Love it.

The problem with Polar Bear Plunges, which take place all across the country, is that they can cause injury if you aren’t prepared properly. Obviously, the safest thing to do is not take a Polar Bear Plunge, but if you do there are two things you need to worry about:

1) Underwater hazards: Sure, thinking about walking into a river, lake or ocean in the middle of winter is nuts, but it’s even crazier if you do it without checking prior for any underwater hazards. Throughout the year shore lines changes, which isn’t an issue when people are using the shore every day during the summer. In the winter, though, changes can happen no one knows about. Most professional, formal Polar Bear events have a safety crew in proper attire walk the shore and into the water to ensure there are no surprises.

2) Hypothermia: This seems like a no brainer, but the threat is very real. The main factor here is something called cold water immersion. Your body doesn’t handle an unexpected sudden temperature change very well. When you first immerse yourself in the cold water you’ll experience the following:

Involuntary gasp – This is designed to increase your lung capacity as your body is preparing for survival.

A couple of minutes of involuntary hyperventilating – Your body does this to lower the carbon dioxide and raise the PH in the blood.

Heart rate and blood pressure increase – Again, this is designed to prepare you for survival.

As the time in the water goes on your chances of hypothermia increase. Hypothermia means your body cannot maintain a normal body temperature. As a warm blooded animal your body relies on a certain temperature range to work properly. Without this range your body begins to suffer consequences.

Surviving Cold Weather: Simply Survival (Greg Davenport’s Books for the Wilderness)

If you stay in too long and hypothermia sets in you’ll feel the following:

  • Shivering
  • Confusion
  • Pulse rate drop
  • Blood pressure drop

The good thing in organized Polar Bear events is that there is usually a time limit and emergency personnel on hand to handle any issues.

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