As we approach real winter and the water temperature drops (in sea, rivers, lakes, and lidos) us cold water swimmers start getting excited ! But it's also a time to temper that excitement with a reflection upon the potential risks of our favourite pursuit. You may be new to the cold water but even if you are habituated to it, , consider yourself hardy and experienced, it's worth taking heed of some useful advice on best practice.
There are three clear medical risks which can be easily avoided if you take the advice below. Some of which may seem counter intuitive, all of which will help you ensure a safe swim and a smooth recovery.
- Cold Shock (Sudden Immersion Syndrome)
- This is an involuntary gasp reflex that can occur if the face is submerged suddenly in very cold water. This can lead to hyperventilation resulting in a lack of oxygen to the brain.
- Enter the water carefully and try to avoid diving.
- Acclimatisation/habituation is very important.
- Hypothermia (progressive drop in body temperature)
- It takes a while for the body to chill but everyone is different.
- Initially blood vessels constrict and blood pressure increases.
- Loss of feeling in extremities, hands may form a “claw”.
- Loss of strength in limbs, deteriorating motor control.
- Disorientation, loss of focus, mental impairment.
- Know your limits, never swim alone, leave the water if you have any concerns or are advised to by one of the lifeguards.
- After Drop (Dangerous impact of resumption of cold blood circulation).
- Post swim, cooled surface blood starts to return to the core.
- Hot showers can accelerate the process by suppressing the shiver response and can increase the after drop.
- Shivering is good. It is the body’s way of warming itself.
- Similarly, vigorous exercise can encourage dangerous early resumption of blood circulation.
- Blood pressure drops as blood flow increases.
- You may feel faint, light-headed and possibly collapse.
- Resulting drop in core temperature can be very dangerous.
- Absolutely NO alcohol – it interferes with the body’s ability to control blood flow and regulate temperature.
- Warm gradually. Avoid hot showers, put on dry layers and seek shelter from the elements.
- Take sips of warm drinks.
- Be prepared
- Know your limits.
- Rehearse your post swim recovery routine.
- Take particular care if you have high or low blood pressure or any other heart condition. .
- If in doubt seek medical advice from your GP.
Of course for us hardy souls at TIDL we would suggest wrapping up in your TIDL Adventure robe, or the ever warm SNUG blanket.. And filling your TIDL bottle with a warming (non-alcoholic) drink. Either ways enjoy !!