Impromptu Ice Bath Helpful for Exercise-induced Heat Stroke

By Andrew M. Seaman

February 06, 2017

(Reuters Health) - A tarp, volunteers and a lot of ice water can be used to rescue athletes and other people from heat stroke caused by exertion if a traditional ice bath is not available, according to a new study.

Researchers call the approach the "TACO method" because rescuers lift the edges of the tarp to form a taco shape and then pour ice water into the tarp to cool down the person with heat stroke.

Traditional cold-water immersion should still remain the standard treatment for exertional heat stroke, but the researchers say their impromptu method can be used in remote areas or emergency situations.

"Exertional heat stroke is potentially fatal," said senior author Brendon McDermott, of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. "It's probably not 100 percent preventable, but with effective recognition and treatment it's 100 percent survivable and TACO represents one method that can be used as effective treatment for that individual."

Exertional heat stroke occurs when a person's body temperature rises through activities like working in the sun or running on a hot day, McDermott told Reuters Health.

The body's cells begin to die when a person's temperature reaches 104 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit (about 40 degrees Celsius), he said. "Without effective treatment," he added, "you will have multiple organs that fail and that's what leads to the demise afterward."

The gold-standard treatment is to immerse the patient in a bathtub with circulating ice water, but this can sometimes be a logistical challenge, the researchers say.

For the new study, the researchers recruited nine men and seven women in their 20s or early 30s to run or cycle until their body temperature reached about 102 degrees F (39 degrees C).

They were trying to mimic industry settings or situations in athletics or in the military where people might get dangerously overheated, McDermott said.

Participants were then instructed to lie down in a tarp for 15 minutes or until their body temperature reached about 101 degrees F (38.1 degrees C).

During one run of the experiment, volunteers lifted the edges of the tarp to form a taco shape. Then they poured about 40 gallons (151 liters) of water that was about 35 degrees F (2.1 degrees C) over each participant.

In a second run of the experiment, the same participants were again told to lie down on the tarp but this time no cold water was poured on them.

Overall, body temperatures declined at a per-minute rate of about 0.25 degrees F (about 0.14 degrees C) with cold water in the tarp, compared to 0.07 degrees F (about 0.04 degrees C) when cold water wasn't used.

The researchers conclude that the TACO method is an appropriate alternative when money, location and space make a proper ice bath impractical or unobtainable.

McDermott said the TACO method could be used in schools and industrial situations.

The study findings are reported in the November issue of the Journal of Athletic Training, which according to the National Association of Athletic trainers wasn't released until early January.


J Athl Train 2017.