Kayaking Technique Forum

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Cold water reactions

As you have found, the gasp is one reaction. Another associated with sudden submersion in cold waters (of just the head, now, the whole body doesn't have to go under) is ventricular fibrillation. The gasp is actually bronchospasm produced by the mammalian diving reflex. Sudden cold can also induce an anaphylactic-like overload of histamine thereby dropping blood pressure precipitously. Wetsuits/drysuits are not an absolute defense against these reactions since immersing only the face or head is necessary. I know I react violently to cold immersion--jumped in a creek in Canada when a boy and thought I was gonna die because I COULD NOT MOVE MY LIMBS and almost got swept into a deep pool. I was rolling in 1 foot of water, unable to cry out (bronchospasm)to my brother only a few feet away. Luckily swept into even shallower water and regained control. I have fallen out twice in 38 degree water in wetsuit/poly/drytop in whitewater. Both times I did not even attempt a roll, as I went over I was on my way out. Both times that overpowering intake (gasp) made me glad my head was on its way out of the water. No problems other than did get mild hypothermia within the 5 minutes it took to get to shore.