Ice packs are used sometimes to treat muscle strains or sprains in different parts of the body. These packs if incorrectly used, can cause skin burns which may vary from mild such as first degree burns or more severe such as second and third degree burns. Cold burns are caused by the prolonged contact with icy objects or snow, as well as the exposure to windy conditions. The burn is cause by a drop in the temperature of the skin in contact with the ice pack, this drop in temperature causes the water contained in the cells to freeze forming sharp ice crystals and damaging the surrounding cell structure. In addition the blood vessels located close to the skin start to constrict and when the skin and the underlying tissues are exposed to prolonged cold or extreme cold, the flow of blood to the affected areas will be greatly reduced leading to damage to these areas. (See also Frostbite)
One of the most common ways this can occur is through the application of the ice pack directly on the skin of the injured area. There are certain factors that may increase the incidence of cold induced burn injuries, these may include:
- People who use medications that decrease the blood flow to the skin such as beta-blockers.