If you have ever worked in the operating room or been a surgical patient yourself, you know just how frigid these suites can become.
Surprisingly, the reason we have been given for these uncomfortable temperatures may not be the real reason at all.
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Why Are Operating Rooms Kept So Cold?
The operating room is kept cold for the benefit of the surgeon and operating room staff and not necessarily for the good of the patient. In fact, a patient that's cold may actually be at an increased risk for infections.
Are Those Cold Temperatures Really Necessary?
Colder operating room temperatures have typically been cited as being necessary for patient safety.
Surgeons have pointed to decreased infection risk over the years as their reasoning behind asking for seemingly frigid temperatures.
However, this has since been disproven.
In fact, most operating room patients actually complain about how cold the room feels, especially when they are so exposed.
While they will be unconscious for most of their time in the OR and may not remember much about the experience, patients should be aware of how these temperatures could affect their health.
Several studies have been done over the past 40 years looking at the connection between operating room temperature and patient health.
A noteworthy clinical trial from 1980 showed that cold temperatures did not seem to affect a patient’s recovery in the recovery room.
However, a more recent study from around 2014 showed that not keeping a patient warm throughout surgery could actually increase his or her risk of infection.
The study examined 200 patients during and after surgery.
Of those who were not kept warm, 19% developed wound infections compared to only 6% in the group of warmed patients.
Another 2017 study showed that cooler and dryer operating room environments benefited the surgical team while warmer and more humid environments benefited patients.
The real reason behind the cold temperatures in the operating suite may surprise you even if you have worked in this department for some time.
It is well known that the human body tends to warm up under stress.
Plus, the bright OR lights can make for a hot environment for those closest to the action.
Surgeons like the colder temperatures to keep them cool and sweat-free, which can lead to better surgical outcomes.
Can It Get Too Cold?
While slightly cooler temperatures do not seem to produce any untoward results, body temperature that drops too low can lead to shivering and post-operative complications.
In some cases, having body temperature lowered by 4 degrees Fahrenheit can be enough to create life-threatening heart problems.
In most cases, operating room temperatures should be kept above 70 degrees Fahrenheit for the patient’s health.
How Can You Keep Your Patients Warm?
If you're a nurse caring for a patient in the operating room or recovery room, you can look for active ways to keep the individual as warm as possible while not stepping on any toes.
At the very least, consider warm blankets for the area of the body not being worked on, and request a Bair hugger forced-air blanket if possible.
You can also ask about warmed fluids and can work with your hospital’s surgeons and facility protocol on a compromise that will work for everyone.
The temperature in the operating room has long been a source of contention for OR staff and surgical patients alike.
If you have worked in the OR in the past, comment below to let us know what you have done to stay comfortable and keep your patients safe.