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Journal of Long-Term Effects of Medical Implants
SJR: 0.332 SNIP: 0.491 CiteScore™: 0.89

ISSN Print: 1050-6934
ISSN Online: 1940-4379

Journal of Long-Term Effects of Medical Implants

DOI: 10.1615/JLongTermEffMedImplants.v15.i1.80
pages 67-78

Cold Injuries

William B. Long III
Trauma Specialists LLP, Legacy Verified Level I Shock Trauma Center for Pediatrics and Adults, Legacy Emmanuel Hospital Portland, OR, USA
Richard Edlich
Legacy Verified Level I Shock Trauma Center Pediatrics and Adults, Legacy Emanual Hospital; and Plastic Surgery, Biomedical Engineering and Emergency Medicine, University of Virginia Health System, USA
Kathryne L. Winters
Website Manager and Information Specialist, Trauma Specialists, LLP, Legacy Emanuel Hospital, Portland, Oregon, 1917 NE 97th St. Vancouver WA 98665, USA
L. D. Britt
Chairman, Brickhouse Professor of Surgery. Department of General Surgery, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Hofheimer Hall, 825 Fairfax Avenue, Norfolk VA 235001, USA


Exposure to cold can produce a variety of injuries that occur as a result of man's inability to adapt to cold. These injuries can be divided into localized injury to a body part, systemic hypothermia, or a combination of both. Body temperature may fall as a result of heat loss by radiation, evaporation, conduction, and convection. Hypothermia or systemic cold injury occurs when the core body temperature has decreased to 35 °C (95 °F) or less. The causes of hypothermia are either primary or secondary. Primary, or accidental, hypothermia occurs in healthy individuals inadequately clothed and exposed to severe cooling. In secondary hypothermia, another illness predisposes the individual to accidental hypothermia. Hypothermia affects multiple organs with symptoms of hypothermia that vary according to the severity of cold injury. The diagnosis of hypothermia is easy if the patient is a mountaineer who is stranded in cold weather. However, it may be more difficult in an elderly patient who has been exposed to a cold environment. In either case, the rectal temperature should be checked with a low-reading thermometer. The general principals of prehospital management are to (1) prevent further heat loss, (2) rewarm the body core temperature in advance of the shell, and (3) avoid precipitating ventricular fibrillation. There are two general techniques of rewarming—passive and active.
The mechanisms of peripheral cold injury can be divided into phenomena that affect cells and extracellular fluids (direct effects) and those that disrupt the function of the organized tissue and the integrity of the circulation (indirect effects). Generally, no serious damage is seen until tissue freezing occurs. The mildest form of peripheral cold injury is frostnip. Chilblains represent a more severe form of cold injury than frostnip and occur after exposure to nonfreezing temperatures and damp conditions. Immersion (trench) foot, a disease of the sympathetic nerves and blood vessels in the feet, is observed in shipwreck survivors or in soldiers whose feet have been wet, but not freezing, for long periods. Patients with frostbite frequently present with multisystem injuries (e.g., systemic hypothermia, blunt trauma, substance abuse). The freezing of the corneas has been reported to occur in individuals who keep their eyes open in high wind-chill situations without protective goggles (e.g., snowmobilers, cross-country skiers).