Taking the Cold Plunge When Sick: Weighing the Potential Risks and Benefits

Taking the Cold Plunge When Sick: Weighing the Potential Risks and Benefits

While cold plunges have numerous benefits and can be truly life-changing, they come with risks. As such, it's no wonder people often ask themselves if it's safe to cold plunge when sick. Will the shock of cold water be a friend or foe to a weakened immune system?

It can be both. A cold plunge when sick can both help you and worsen your condition. That's why it's generally recommended to confirm with a healthcare professional if it's safe to expose yourself to extreme cold.

Key Takeaways

  • Cold plunging when sick can offer benefits, such as boosting the immune system, enhancing mood, and improving circulation. However, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional, especially if you have pre-existing conditions.
  • There are significant risks associated with cold plunging when sick, including hypothermia, cardiovascular strain, and worsened respiratory issues. These risks make it crucial to proceed cautiously and with adequate safety measures.
  • Alternatives like cold or lukewarm showers or localized cold therapy may provide some benefits of cold plunging with fewer risks. They can be more suitable for those who are too sick or uncomfortable with full-body cold immersion.
  • Always follow your doctor's recommendation when you're ill.

Cold Plunge and Illness: What You Need to Know

Cold exposure is more than a mere test of fortitude. It’s a practice that challenges the body, pushing it to adapt and respond in ways that can potentially confer health benefits. However, it’s not risk-free, especially when you’re ill.

Cold Plunge Basics

Cold water immersion, also known as cold plunging or cold water exposure, involves submerging oneself in a tank filled with cold water. It is usually done at an optimal temperature range of 39.2-59°F (4-15°C). This can definitely send a shiver down your spine! Cold water swimming and cold showers are often labeled as cold exposure as well, although their benefits depend on the water temperature.

The duration varies from a brief, invigorating 30 seconds to a more enduring 10 minutes. Beginners are advised to start with the former.

So, what does cold exposure do to our bodies? Our bodies perceive it as a stressful or threatening situation. So, our physiological responses are aimed at controlling that situation and protecting our vital organs. The blood vessels constrict or close, thus pulling the blood away from extremities and delivering it to vital organs, trying to maintain their adequate temperature. As such, cold plunges have everything to do with our cardiovascular and nervous systems.

What Happens When We're Sick?

To understand how a cold plunge can affect us when we're sick, we must first understand what happens in our bodies when we get a cold.

When we're ill, the cytokines alert our blood cells that there's something wrong and our bodies need to be defended. Then, our blood vessels dilate. This fills the sick area with white blood cells, which help fight the virus. That's why the whole body hurts when we're ill.

In addition, this can cause fever, weakness, fatigue, and shivering. In fact, the body temperature is closely connected to muscle pain. The higher the body temperature, the more tense your muscles become because you feel the need to shiver.

Cold Plunging When Sick: Benefits

All clear about our physiological responses to cold plunges and sickness. But what happens when we combine the two? How will our bodies react? Let's find out!

Immune System Boost

It's well known that cold water therapy can boost our immune system, help reduce inflammation, and promote speedy recovery. But will we still benefit from these if we're sick? We probably will, but only if we avoid doing this in certain situations (find out more below). Why so?

You'd think that since our bodies fight off the infection through vasodilation and cold plunges cause vasoconstriction, they will actually do more harm than good, right? It may be true for those few minutes spent in the water. However, the blood vessels won't stay closed forever, right?! They dilate again once your body starts warming up, and your circulation improves after a cold bath. Therefore, a cold plunge or an ice bath can actually help those white blood cells fight off the infection. This way, a cold plunge when sick can boost the immune system and speed your recovery. In fact, a study has shown that only within 1 hour after cold exposure total white cell counts can increase significantly.

Nonetheless, it's worth mentioning that many of these details are yet to be fully confirmed by further research. Since all these studies are small and not well-controlled, the results are only potentially valid.

Mental Health Boost

Furthermore, cold plunging when sick can also boost our mental health. Cold plunges and ice baths trigger the release of norepinephrine and dopamine and increase beta-endorphin levels.

In addition, cold plunges can also stimulate the Vagus nerve. It is the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for calming us down in stressful situations. All these effects can be extremely beneficial when we're down with a cold.

Improved Sleep

Sleeping when we're ill is a true challenge, isn't it? All those painful muscles, the stuffy nose, the throat discomfort... Since cold plunges are renowned for their ability to induce deep relaxation, they may also improve your sleep. However, specialists suggest that the effect of cold water immersion on sleep is not well-studied yet, so further research is required.

Cold Plunging When Sick: Potential Risks

Cold plunges carry risks even if performed when a person is completely healthy.

First of all, people can suffer from hypothermia if they stay too much in the water. Secondly, cold water exposure can trigger a cold shock response, which, in turn, triggers various physiological reactions, including irregular breathing, the impossibility of controlling core body temperature, and even a heart attack.

That's why it's extremely important to consult a healthcare provider to confirm if cold plunges won't aggravate any pre-existing conditions you might have.

If you're sick, other risks are added to this list. Here are some.

Cardiovascular Strain

Colds put a lot of stress on our cardiovascular system. They force the heart to work harder. In addition, oxygen levels and blood pressure drop. This increases the risk of blood clots and, therefore, the risk of a heart attack and other complications. As such, a cold can be dangerous even for those who do not currently suffer from cardiovascular conditions but have a risk of developing one.

Therefore, since a sudden immersion in cold water puts a lot of stress on the cardiovascular system, the risks increase when it's coupled with a cold.

Respiratory Issues

Colds already come with respiratory issues that are quite uncomfortable, painful, and even dangerous for those who have pre-existing respiratory conditions.

When you take a cold plunge, the first visible reactions are changes in your breath. You may hold your breath, hyperventilate, or gasp. These may worsen your respiratory issues. To prevent that, you'd have to do some breathing exercises. But if your nose is stuffy, you won't be able to control your breath.

Too Much Stress On the Body

Even if the cardiovascular system deals well with cold exposure, your whole body may react negatively. Illnesses already make you tired and weak, so you may not be able to control your body as needed when exposed to the cold. You can feel dizzy and even faint. This, in turn, can cause injuries and other complications.

No Cold Plunges If You Have a Fever

You've probably already heard about the famous remedy to take a cold or even an ice bath to reduce high fever. But does this actually work? Not really.

Doctors say we should never take cold baths if we have a fever. Since cold plunging causes vasoconstriction, meaning the blood is pulled away from the extremities and sent to the vital organs, our core body temperature will actually increase. As such, cold plunging to reduce fever can make things worse. Instead, taking a bath in lukewarm water can help and make you feel more comfortable.

Precautions and Guidelines for Cold Plunging When Sick

Navigating the icy world of cold plunging when sick requires caution. While the potential benefits may be enticing, it’s crucial to consider the potential risks and follow certain precautions to ensure safety.

Before you plunge into the icy depths, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional. This is especially important if you have pre-existing medical conditions or if you’re currently ill. From angina pectoris and severe cardiac diseases to a history of epilepsy - certain conditions may require special precautions or even contraindicate cold plunging.

Furthermore, it’s best to gradually acclimate your body to the chilling effects of cold plunging. This approach helps find a balance that stimulates the immune system without over-stressing the body.

Safety should be your utmost priority when it comes to cold plunging, especially when you’re under the weather. Always ensure you’re not alone during a cold plunge session. Having an experienced cold therapist or a companion present can provide an extra layer of safety. In addition, don't forget that you have to allow your body to warm up naturally.

Cold Plunge Alternatives for the Sick

If the thought of diving into a freezing plunge gives you cold feet, there are alternatives to consider, like a cold shower or localized cold therapy.

Cold or lukewarm showers may be a safer and more tolerable option for those who are sick. They can provide similar benefits and can be easily incorporated into your daily routine.

For a more targeted approach, consider localized cold therapy. This method involves applying cold therapy wraps or gel packs to specific areas of discomfort or inflammation. They offer targeted relief without the full-body shock of a cold plunge.

Cold Exposure as Illness Therapy

Due to its potential benefits, cold exposure is often recommended as a complementary therapy for conditions like:

  • arthritis
  • migraines
  • fibromyalgia
  • multiple sclerosis

It has been shown that cold plunges are particularly recommended for people suffering from autoimmune diseases because they help with pain management.

If you've agreed with your doctor that cold water therapy can be effective for your condition, don't hesitate to contact Coldture to get the best cold plunge tub in Canada! Our products are of the highest quality, and our experts are here to share all their features with you!

Summary

All in all, should you cold plunge when sick or not? It depends on how you feel and what your symptoms are. If you're just feeling a bit under the weather and don't have a fever, a quick dip probably won't hurt. On the other hand, if you're extremely tired, weak, and have a high temperature, it's best to follow the traditional cold treatment guidelines - hydration, sleep, and medication if needed.

If you choose to cold plunge, make sure to check with your doctor that it's safe. Don't forget about the risks! In the end, it's generally recommended to treat a cold only under a healthcare professional's instructions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to do a cold plunge when you're sick?

It depends on your specific illness and overall health. Always consult with a healthcare professional before practicing cold plunging when sick.

What are some of the potential benefits of cold plunging?

Cold plunging can potentially boost your immune system, enhance your mood, and improve blood circulation, but it's important to be cautious, especially when feeling unwell.

What are some alternatives to cold plunging?

Consider trying cold showers and localized cold therapy as alternatives to full-body cold plunging, as they offer similar benefits with fewer risks.

How should I start practicing cold plunging?

Start practicing cold plunging with quick dips of just 15-30 seconds. Limit cold plunging to once or twice a week. This gradual approach allows your body to adapt to the cold and reduces the risk of adverse effects.

Back to blog