Modern travel and military operations have led to a significant increase in the need to provide medical care in extreme climates. Presently, there are few data on what happens to the doctor, their drugs and equipment when exposed to these extremes. A review was undertaken to find out the effects of ‘extreme heat or cold’ on anaesthesia and critical care; in addition, subject matter experts were contacted directly. Both extreme heat and extreme cold can cause a marked physiological response in a critically ill patient and the doctor treating these patients may also suffer a decrement in both physical and mental functioning. Equipment can malfunction when exposed to extremes of temperature and should ideally be stored and operated in a climatically controlled environment. Many drugs have a narrow range of temperatures in which they remain useable though some have been shown to remain effective if exposed to extremes of temperature for a short period of time. All personnel embarking on an expedition to an extreme temperature zone should be of sufficient physical robustness and ideally should have a period of acclimatisation which may help mitigate against some of the physiological effects of exposure to extreme heat or extreme cold. Expedition planners should aim to provide climatic control for drugs and equipment and should have logistical plans for replenishment of drugs and medical evacuation of casualties.
- Accident & Emergency Medicine