|Other natural treatments for
Author/s: J. Ricker Polsdorfer
Cooling treatments lower body temperature in order to relieve pain, swelling,
constriction of blood vessels, and to decrease the likelihood of cellular damage by
slowing the metabolism. Sponge baths, cold compresses, and cold packs are all wet cooling
treatments. Dry treatments, such as ice bags and chemical cold packs, are also used to
lower body temperature.
Purpose of Cooling Treatments
The most common reason for cooling a body is fever or hypothermia (extremely high
fever). The body can sustain temperatures up to 104°F (40°C) with relative safety,
however when temperatures rise above 104°F (40°C), damage to the brain, muscles, blood,
and kidneys is increasingly likely. Cooling treatments are also applied immediately
following sprains, bruises, burns, eye injuries, and muscle spasms to help alleviate the
resulting swelling, pain, and discoloration of the skin.
Cooling treatments slow chemical reactions within the body. For this reason, cooling
tissues below normal temperature (98.6°F/37°C) can prevent injury from inadequate oxygen
or nutrition. Cold water drowning victims suffering from hypothermia (cooling of the body
below its normal temperature) have been successfully resuscitated after long periods
underwater without medical complications because of this effect. For the past 40 years,
heart surgeons have been experimenting with hypothermia to protect tissues from lack of
blood circulation during an operation. Neurosurgeons are also working with hypothermia to
protect the very sensitive brain tissues during periods of absent or reduced blood flow.
Description of Cooling Treatments
Depending on the medical need, various cooling methods are used.
- Cold packs and ice bags are placed on a localized site and provide topical relief. These
compresses should be covered with a waterproof material to protect the skin. Repeated
treatments produce the desired pain and swelling relief.
- Cold treatments are placed on the groin and under the arms to treat hypothermia.
Treatments are refreshed periodically until the appropriate temperature is attained.
- A tepid sponge bath relieves fever without cooling the body too fast. Eighty degrees
Fahrenheit is still 20°F below body temperature and yet warm enough not to drive blood
from the skin, thereby preventing the cooling from getting to the body's core. Limbs are
bathed first and then the chest, abdomen, back, and buttocks.
- Perfusion of isolated regions like the brain by using cooled blood is an experimental
treatment, offering promising results for the treatment of stroke.
Preparation of Cooling Treatments
Topical treatments are prepared with ice, cold water (59°F/15°C), and chemical cold
packs. Tepid baths should be 80-93°F (26.7-34°C).
Risks of Cooling Treatments
Small children, adults with circulation problems, and the elderly are all at risk of
tissue damage. Rapid cooling causes chills, which in effect raise the body's temperature
by raising its metabolism. Blood clots may form from thickened blood caused by the