This page is not meant to provide comprehensive or professional advice in first aid, however should be used as basic information that could prove useful in saving lives out in the mountains. Professional rescue services are available and should be called in emergency circumstances on 999.
Danger: Are there any immediate dangers to yourself? Check for these potential risks before treating a casualty. We don’t need two injured people. Shout for help now! Get someone to call the emergency services while you deal with the casualty.
Airway: Ensure the airway is open and unblocked. If the casualty is unconscious tilt the head back and lift the chin to open the airway.
Breathing: Establish if they are breathing, look listen and feel for breaths. If unconscious and breathing, place them into the recover position as shown below. If the are unconscious and not breathing, call 999 immediately and start CPR.
Circulation: Now check for signs of severe bleeding. Apply pressure to the area and raise the affected limb if possible.
Other common injuries:
Cuts and bruises – If persistent bleeding occurs apply bandages firmly over the area and raise the affected limb if possible. Change bandages as necessary.
Head and Spinal injuries – If in doubt treat the casualty as a spinal injury. These types of injuries will require specialist treatment. What you can do:
- – Call emergency services immediately
- – Refer to Doctors ABC
- – Only move the casualty if medically necessary
- – Keep them warm
- – Do not remove clothing or helmets unless necessary
Casualties with head and spinal injuries should only be moved if necessary to prevent further damage. However if their airway is restricted or they are not breathing they must be moved, even if this risks further damage.
Broken bones – control any bleeding as well as possible with bandages. Consider calling the emergency services depending on your situation. Restrict the movement of broken bones as much as possible to prevent further damage and pain; use a sling or t-shirt to immobilise arm injuries until you reach an A&E service.
Temperature related conditions:
Frostbite – Frostbite is damage to the skin and tissue caused by exposure to freezing temperatures; symptoms include throbbing, aching and pins and needles.
Prevention is better than cure, so protect the hands, feet and nose tip as well as possible. If entering winter conditions always be prepared with a survival bag, extra warm and waterproof layers, as well as spare gloves and socks.
If you think someone has frostbite, suspect hypothermia as well. If someone has hypothermia never treat for frostbite.
- Suspect hypothermia
- Move to a warm place
- Protect the skin from further exposure to the cold, place hands under arm pits
- Do not rub affected area
- Do not smoke if you have frostbite
- Treat for rewarming once in a warm place
- Seek medical advice if moderate to severe frostbite has occurred
Treating frostbite has to be done in a warm environment, this process can be painful and therefore it is advised to take place under medical supervision. Rewarm the affected area in warm, but not hot water (roughly 40 degrees) for 30 minutes. Stop rewarming only once the affected area is red-purple in colour and easy to move.
Hypothermia – Hypothermia is a potentially life threatening condition where body temperature drops below 35 degrees. Due to the nature of mountaineering activities it is not always possible to remove casualties to shelter, which is often part of the best treatment. If you are climbing in winter conditions ALWAYS CARRY A SURVIVAL BAG.
Signs to look out for:
- Shivering (this can pass with more severe hypothermia)
- Cold and pale skin
- Slurred speech
- Fast breathing
- Low heart rate
- Tiredness and confusion
Treatment: Casualties must be warmed gradually and without delay. Never assume a casualty has died, if a pulse is not present start CPR and continue until emergency services arrive.
- Call the emergency services
- Refer to Doctors ABC
- Get casualty to shelter
- Use a survival bag, share this with the casualty to share body heat if there is room
- Wrap in as many dry layers as possible
- Give them a hot drink and/or sugary foods e.g. chocolate if they can swallow normally
You must NEVER:
- Give them alcohol
- Use heating lamps
- Massage or rub their limbs
- Immerse the casualty into hot water or use hot water bottles
Rubbing, massaging and the use of hot water bottles will divert blood flow to the surface away from critical organs, making the situation worse. NEVER TREAT FOR FROSTBITE IF HYPOTHERMIA IS SUSPECTED.
It is also vitally important that climbers are aware of any medical conditions their climbing partners may have. Information on whether the casualty is asthmatic, diabetic, has allergies etc., can be vital in saving that person’s life and must be passed to emergency service personnel. These conditions should also be made aware to MUMC via email firstname.lastname@example.org for future trips.
Every situation that you could find yourself in will be unique and you must use your judgment and experience in conjunction with any training you have to adopt the correct approach.