Officials in Nevada announced that they are expanding the inquiry into the cryotherapy industry following the death of a Las Vegas salon worker in an apparent treatment chamber mishap last month. The investigation would now include an examination of the safety of employees as well as the machines used in administering the procedure.
Cryotherapy is a treatment that involves subjecting the human body to extremely cold dry air to help it recover from injury or reduce pain.
Some cryotherapy centers even go so far as to advertise that the treatment can help cure asthma, prevent osteoporosis, trigger weight loss and improve libido.
However, when 24-year-old local spa employee Chelsea Patricia Ake-Salvacion died in a cryotherapy chamber in October, concerns were quickly raised about the safety and regulation of such therapies.
Despite claims by cryotherapy operators that the procedure is safe, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not see potential medical benefits from using cryotherapy chambers. The agency also does not regulate the use of these devices.
"There are no regulations for this industry right now," Steve George, head of the Industrial Relations Division of Nevada, said.
George and his colleagues at the division are working with officials from the health department on investigating the matter.
FDA spokeswoman Deborah Kotz refused to comment on the validity of exact claims, but said the agency was concerned about the potential sale of devices that have not met its requirements.
Whole Body Cryotherapy
While early cryotherapy treatments began by targeting only specific parts of the body to remove malignant or benign tissue damage, a procedure known as whole body cryotherapy (WBC) requires exposing the body to hyper-frigid temperatures through the use of liquid nitrogen.
Patients are asked to step into a cryotherapy chamber where temperatures could range from minus 160 degrees to minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Cryotherapy operators believe the cold helps prompt the body to send blood from the skin to the core in order to reduce inflammation.
Whole body cryotherapy sessions usually take only around three minutes to finish, which is considered to be enough time to allow the body to benefit from the therapy without suffering any adverse effects.
Prof. Gordon Giesbrecht, an extreme environments expert at the University of Manitoba, explained that since the human body is generally composed of muscles and organs, it would take a longer time than three minutes for it to cool down or warm up.
However, he pointed out that the threat of experiencing frostbite can still occur quickly under extreme temperatures.
"At negative 70 degrees, unprotected skin can freeze in as little as two minutes," Giesbrecht said. "At negative 300 - nobody has done these experiments."
According to Las Vegas police, Ake-Salvacion died after using a cryotherapy chamber in the spa where she worked. She had operated the device after hours by herself, which was prohibited by cryotherapy operators.
Ake-Salvacion likely passed out from nitrogen fumes, causing her to collapse to the chamber's bottom where there is not enough oxygen. She was found frozen to death the next morning.
The investigation found no evidence of criminal activity and deemed that the incident was caused by human error.