Part 4: How to Handle Emergencies

North Fork of the Willamette River by Eric DeBord

While most people have no issues while enjoying outdoor adventures, it’s good to be prepared and to know what to do in emergencies. Remember, you must take personal responsibility for your safety and well-being as you explore Oregon!

First Aid

You should always carry some first aid basics if you can. You can purchase a standard first aid kit, or put one together on your own. Consider including bandages; skin closures; gauze pads and dressings; roller bandage or wrap; tape; antiseptic; blister prevention and treatment supplies; nitrile gloves; tweezers; needle; nonprescription painkillers; anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrheal, and antihistamine tablets; topical antibiotic; and any important personal prescriptions, including an EpiPen if you are allergic to bee or hornet venom.

Brush up on your first-aid knowledge or consider taking a first-aid course. A good resource for outdoors first aid can be found here.

Poisonous Plants

In Oregon the most common plant that can cause a skin rash if contacted is poison oak, which grows in diverse environments. Their leaflets grow in groups of three and are sometimes shiny, and they usually grow as low shrubs but can also climb trees as a vine. If you are exposed, wash your skin with soap and cold running water, and wash clothing in hot water when you return home.

Avoid eating any plant, berry, or mushroom that you can’t positively identify as edible and safe. If you’re not sure, don’t eat it.

Heat- and Cold-related Illnesses

You can generally avoid heat- and cold-related illnesses by following basic preparedness tips. However, in extreme heat or in wet, cold weather, the life-threatening conditions of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or hypothermia can occur.

Signs of heat exhaustion can include nausea, dizziness, headache, excessive sweating, and other symptoms of dehydration. It can often be treated by drinking fluids and resting in a cool place. Left untreated, the condition can progress to the more serious heat stroke, indicated by dry, red skin and worsening symptoms of heat exhaustion. In the event of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, get to a cool place, preferably in or near a stream, and bathe your skin with cool water.

Hypothermia occurs when a person’s body temperature drops too low, caused by exposure to extreme cold or when body heat is lost too fast. Initial symptoms include shivering and mental confusion which can worsen if shivering stops. The key to recovery is to get warm and dry as soon as possible. This can mean changing into dry clothes, wrapping in blankets, and drinking warm beverages.

Accidents, Injury, and Insect Bites

Small cuts, scrapes, and blisters are the most common injuries on the trail and can easily be cleaned and bandaged with items in a basic first aid kit. For more serious injuries like sprains and broken bones, the most important thing to do is to immobilize the injured area and get assistance to return to the car and get medical help. If you can’t walk out, send someone to call for help. Remain on the trail and do not move more than necessary while you wait for help.

Stinging and biting insects are common in many areas. Bring insect repellent to avoid bites from mosquitoes and ticks. If you are bitten by a tick, remove it with a pair of tweezers as close to the skin as possible. If you’re allergic to bee or wasp stings, be prepared with antihistamine or an EpiPen.

Encounters with Wildlife

The best way to avoid wildlife-related hazards is to be aware of your surroundings and make noise as you are hiking to alert animals to your presence. Large mammals are very rarely encountered, but if you see a cougar, bear, or wolf cub/pup move away, as the mother is likely nearby and will be protective. If confronted by an adult don’t run or turn your back. Stand your ground or back away slowly, raising your arms to look big, talking firmly, or clapping. Give the animal a way to escape, and it will likely retreat. In the unlikely event that an animal attacks, fight back using your pack, rocks, sticks, or other tools.

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