The Triaging and Treatment of Cold-Induced Injuries

Christoph Sachs, Marcus Lehnhardt, Adrien Daigeler, Ole Goertz
Deutsches Ärzteblatt International 2015 October 30, 112 (44): 741-7

BACKGROUND: In Central Europe, cold-induced injuries are much less common than burns. In a burn center in western Germany, the mean ratio of these two types of injury over the past 10 years was 1 to 35. Because cold-induced injuries are so rare, physicians often do not know how to deal with them.

METHODS: This article is based on a review of publications (up to December 2014) retrieved by a selective search in PubMed using the terms "freezing," "frostbite injury," "non-freezing cold injury," and "frostbite review," as well as on the authors' clinical experience.

RESULTS: Freezing and cold-induced trauma are part of the treatment spectrum in burn centers. The treatment of cold-induced injuries is not standardized and is based largely on case reports and observations of use. distinction is drawn between non-freezing injuries, in which there is a slow temperature drop in tissue without freezing, and freezing injuries in which ice crystals form in tissue. In all cases of cold-induced injury, the patient should be slowly warmed to 22°-27°C to prevent reperfusion injury. Freezing injuries are treated with warming of the body's core temperature and with the bathing of the affected body parts in warm water with added antiseptic agents. Any large or open vesicles that are already apparent should be debrided. To inhibit prostaglandin-mediated thrombosis, ibuprofen is given (12 mg/kg body weight b.i.d.).

CONCLUSION: The treatment of cold-induced injuries is based on their type, severity, and timing. The recommendations above are grade C recommendations. The current approach to reperfusion has yielded promising initial results and should be further investigated in prospective studies.

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