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Brain blood flow and hyperventilation on cold water immersion: can treading water help control these symptoms of cold shock?

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Introduction

Cold-water immersion (CWI) elicits the cold shock response (CSR). The hyperventilatory component of the CSR causes a decrease in cerebral blood flow velocity (CBFv) potentially causing sensations of dizziness and increasing the risk of becoming unconscious and consequently drowning [1]. In these early minutes of CWI the current advice is to 'float first' and remain stationary [2] yet this strategy may not have any effect on ventilation and therefore brain CBFv. We tested the hypothesis that leg only exercise could offset the reduction in CBFv in a resting CWI (H1) and be absent in warm water immersion.

Methods

Seventeen participants consented and visited the laboratory 3 times; mean [SD]: age 21 [3]yrs; height 1.71 [.01]m; mass 70.9 [10.1]kg. All immersions were standardised by depth, duration, clothing (bathing suit) and time of day. Test conditions were a) a resting warm water immersion (WWI; 34.7 [2.6] °C), b) a resting CWI (CWI-R: 12.2 [0.5] °C), c) a CWI (12.1 [0.5] °C) where light exercise (leg kicking/treading water; 80 bpm-1) commenced 30-seconds after water entry (CWI-K). CBFv was measured using a transcranial Doppler at a fixed depth (61 [1] mm) over the middle cerebral artery. Oxygen uptake and ventilation were measured using an online gas analysis system. Perceptions of breathlessness were measured after 1, 3 and 5 minutes using an 11-point categorical scale (0-not at all breathless, 10-extremely breathless). ANOVA was used to analyse the data to an alpha level of 0.05.

Results

CWI induced significant changes in contrast to WWI (see Table 1).

Table 1 Mean [SD] perceived breathlessness, CBFv, oxygen uptake, and carbon dioxide production in WWI (condition a), CWI-R (b) and CWI-K (c); letters denote differences between the corresponding condition.

Discussion

Leg kicking on CWI partially offset the reduction in CBFv that normally occurs on CWI; in contrast to a warm water control. WWI CBFv was only different to the CWI-R condition. This did not alleviate symptoms of breathlessness despite increased oxygen uptake and carbon dioxide production in the CWI-K condition; the hypothesis is only partially supported.

References

  1. 1.

    Mantoni T, Rasmussen JH, Belhage JH, Pott FC: Voluntary respiratory control and cerebral blood flow velocity upon ice-water immersion. Aviation. Space and Environmental Medicine. 2008, 79 (8): 765-768. 10.3357/ASEM.2216.2008.

  2. 2.

    Barwood MJ, Bates V, Long GM, Tipton MJ: Int J Aq Res Edu. 2011, 5: 147-163.

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Author information

Correspondence to Martin Barwood.

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This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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Keywords

  • Oxygen Uptake
  • Middle Cerebral Artery
  • Water Immersion
  • Categorical Scale
  • Carbon Dioxide Production