Cold water shock training could help you save a life one day. The effect on the body of entering water 15°C and below can be the precursor to drowning accidents. The term “cold water shock” was coined to describe a range of natural reactions that our bodies take to protect us when we enter cold water (however, these reactions can sometimes work against us). “Cold water” isn’t just icy water, this could be the temperature of an indoor pool and what cold water shock does to our bodies. This article will discuss cold water shock and the effects on the human body.
Why is Cold Water Shock Dangerous?
Water below 15°C is classified as cold water and can seriously affect your breathing and movement, so the risk is significant most of the year. In the UK and Ireland, the average sea temperatures are just 12°C
Does Cold Water Shock the Body?
There are 3 stages the human body goes through during cold water shock. It starts off with a gasp for air followed by rapid breathing or hyperventilation. As your breathing loses control, your blood pressure will dramatically increase as your body tries to keep your blood warm by moving to the middle of your body. This is the reason we go pale when we are cold.
When your breathing goes back to normal, this is a small window of time to get out of the water before the more serious effects of cold water shock sink in. As the muscles cool, the strength, endurance and muscle control reduces to a state that it becomes difficult to swim. At this point, you experience “swim failure” and if you’re still in the water and cannot get hold of buoyancy aid, then you will likely drown.
What To Do
- Take a minute. The effect of will pass in a minute so do not panic.
- Relax & float to catch your breath. Grab a hold of something to help with buoyancy.
- Keep calm. Once relaxed, then call for help or swim for safety if you can.
Risk of Hypothermia
The truth is that unless they have a way of surviving past the point of swim failure (i.e holding something to support buoyancy), you will drown before you become hypothermic. On average, it takes the human body 30 minutes to experience hypothermia.