With the advent of the Internet, everyone is an expert when it comes to everything from medicine to outward bound survival skills. Unfortunately, modern lore spread through the Web and pop culture can actually get you killed.
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That’s particularly true when it comes to survival strategies hawked by less-than-expert Web posters.
You’ve heard the one about drinking alcohol to warm up in a blizzard? How about cutting a snake-bite wound and sucking out the poison? Or playing dead, if you’re attacked by a bear? Turns out they’re all falsehoods that could get you killed.
Here are some of the most common myths about surviving in the wild, and the facts that could save your life.
Myth 1: Rub frostbitten skin. Every winter, this old saw makes the rounds. But, in fact, rubbing frostbitten skin is precisely the wrong thing to do, because it can cause tissue damage and harm. Instead, slowly warm frostbitten skin in a heated room, using blankets and warm water bottles, if possible.
Survival expert Cory Lundin, founder and director of Aboriginal Living Skills School in Prescott, Ariz., tells Newsmax Health that the treatment for frostbite often depends heavily on the scenario.
“If someone has frostbite and cannot safely rewarm the affected body part without the possibility of it refreezing, the general rule is to leave it alone until safely rewarming the part can be accomplished,” Lundin says.
Frostbite means that cells within the body are essentially frozen.
“Sharp, microscopic ice crystals can cause further cellular damage as they move back and forth due to the rubbing of the afflicted person’s skin,” Lundin says.
Myth 2: Warm up with liquor. The truth is that, in a cold-weather survival scenario, alcohol is actually the last thing you want to drink, experts say. Alcohol dilates the blood vessels and capillaries, so even though you may feel warmer you will actually chill even faster.
That could put you at greater risk for hypothermia.
Myth 3: Cut and suck on a snakebite wound. This Hollywood movie scenario, featured in many rattlesnake-bit westerns, can actually get you killed.
Lundin explains that venom from a snake bite immediately enters the bloodstream, making it impossible to suck out. The act of cutting into a bit wound makes you vulnerable to a larger risk of infection.
Instead, Lundin advises immobilizing the body part bitten to help decrease the spread of venom and saying as calm as possible to slow the spread of venom through the circulatory system — until you can get medical attention.
“Get to a medical facility as quickly as possible,” Lundin advises.
Myth 4: Drink your own urine to stay hydrated. Lundin’s has three words to say about this idea: Don’t do this.
The pop culture myth of drinking your own urine to stay hydrated is pervasive but not proven. Urine contains the body’s waste products and may be contaminated with bacteria and shouldn’t be reintroduced to your system.
The same is true of the myth that you should drink the fluid from a cactus to save yourself from dying of thirst. One type of cactus, the barrel cactus, provides water that you can safely drink, but the majority of other cacti fluid will make you sick and cause you to vomit. This will, in turn, make you more dehydrated.
The best way to stay hydrated when there’s a lack of available water supply is to moderate your sweat, not your water.
“What this means is to conserve the metabolic water already contained within the body,” Lundin tells Newsmax Health. “Staying in the shade, limiting body movement, and creating a cooler micro-climate dealing with the physics of heat loss and gain will all save the body’s water and increase survival time.”
Myth 5: Play dead if attacked by a bear. The notion that you should play dead if you’re attacked by a bear is a popular one. But if you do this during an encounter with some species of bear, you could end up becoming a quick and easy lunch.
“In the case of the grizzly bear, the general rule of thumb is to play dead. For the common black bear, it is advised to fight back if possible,” says Lundin.
Other bear-battling tips:
If a bear is in your immediate area, like your backyard or campsite, the best thing you can do is make yourself large and loud, which will hopefully scare the bear off.
If you encounter a bear in its natural habitat, such as the woods, try to quietly back away.
If a bear tries to attack you, you should always fight back.
Keep in mind that brown and grizzly bears normally attack in order to defend their cubs. Before an attack, the bear will make noise and pretend to charge in order to warn someone off. Try backing away slowly. If the bear is able to make contact, it’s at that point that you should play dead by lying on your stomach flat on the ground with your hands over your neck.
Myth 6: Moss grows on the north side of a tree. This falsehood is often spread as a way to help hikers lost in a wood or forest to find their direction. But, in reality, moss can grow on all sides of a tree depending on the environment. As a result, relying on this navigational myth could get you lost.
Myth 7: Punch a shark in the nose. This is bad advice for warding off a shark attack. For one thing, the odds are slim that you can land a punch squarely on the nose of a shark trying to attack you in the water. For another, a punch isn’t likely to deter a hungry shark.
Instead, if a shark tries to bite you, use your fingers to claw at its eyes and gills or try and put a solid object — a surf board, life preserver, anything you can — between you and the shark.