New preliminary research suggests that applying ice to the face of a trauma patient may help ensure their vital organs continue to receive enough oxygen by preventing cardiovascular decompensation. This sudden drop in blood pressure is a serious risk after blood loss, even is the patient has stopped bleeding.
According to an article published on the HealthDay website yesterday, study leader Blair Johnson said in an American Physiological Society news release: "We think that this technique could be used by first responders or combat medics on the battlefield to give additional time for transportation or evacuation."
An important caveat, the researchers point out, is that the cooling technique should only be employed once a tourniquet or direct pressure has been applied, since boosting blood pressure during bleeding may exacerbate a patient's blood loss.
The preliminary study looked at only 10 participants, and they were studied under artificial conditions, specifically a chamber whose effects on blood pressure mimic those of a loss of up to a liter of blood. Researchers then placed bags of ice water or room-temperature water on participants' faces for 15 minutes as their heart function was monitored.
Those participants treated with ice bags had significant improvements in blood pressure. According to HealthDay, "the researchers concluded that cooling the face might help restore heart function and maintain blood pressure after severe blood loss."
There is a need for the technique to be tested in clinical trials to determine whether the effect holds up in larger samples and under more realistic scenarios, however the preliminary research offers a possiblly effective technique to improve trauma patient outcomes.