The problem with cold therapy machines is that patients who use them for hours may be too numb to realize when their skin is getting too cold, and they can easily miss the first symptoms of skin necrosis (skin discoloration, swelling, pain, and more). By they time they remove the compression pad and examine their skin, irreversible skin necrosis has already occurred. Over time, the skin may blister, blacken, peel away, and cause additional complications.
Symptoms of Skin Necrosis
The symptoms of skin necrosis (death of skin and tissue) grow progressively worse depending on the thickness of skin involved in the injury. The most mild forms of skin necrosis only involve the uppermost layers (epidermis). More serious skin necrosis symptoms involve lower layers of skin (dermis), subcutaneous fat, and even tissues below the skin (nerves, ligaments, etc.).
Although these symptoms can be very severe, the first signs of skin necrosis often go unnoticed by people using a cold therapy machine. The problem is that the machines are advertised as superior to traditional ice packs because they can provide up to 11 hours of “continuous cold therapy.”
Many people falsely believe cold therapy machines are safe to use for hours at a time. They fail to check under the compression pad for symptoms of skin necrosis, frostbite, and other injuries. Furthermore, many people do not realize that skin necrosis symptoms can occur at above-freezing temperatures.
Symptoms of skin necrosis can include:
- Partial thickness skin necrosis (mild): Symptoms only affect the epidermis, causing redness, rash, swelling, feelings of burning or tingling. The skin may feel hot and dry, and it may look mottled blue, gray, or red.
- Deep partial thickness skin necrosis (moderate): Blisters filled with clear fluid form within 24 hours of the injury. The patient may have some temporary nerve damage, including increased cold sensitivity, burning, tickling, pricking, or numbness.
- Full thickness skin necrosis (severe): Blisters filled with blood form (hemorrhagic blisters). The skin turns deep red, dark purple, blackens, and may begin peeling away from the rest of the body. Necrosis may include nerves and subcutaneous tissue. Permanent cold sensitivity and surgery are potential complications.
List of Skin Necrosis Symptoms
- Skin discoloration (redness)
- Swelling or fluid accumulation
- Blisters (may be filled with clear fluid or blood)
- Skin turns dark red, purple, or black
- Abnormal sensation (tingling, prickling, burning, etc.)
- Numbness or loss of sensation
- Skin appears hard, dry, waxy, white, pale, or grayish-yellow
- Skin death, decomposition, or infection (gangrene)