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J Physiol. 1998 Oct 15;512 ( Pt 2):621-8.

Habituation of the initial responses to cold water immersion in humans: a central or peripheral mechanism?

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Department of Sport and Exercise Science, University of Portsmouth, White Swan Road, Portsmouth, Hants PO1 2DT and Institute of Naval Medicine, Gosport, Hants PO12 2DL, UK.


1. The initial respiratory and cardiac responses to cold water immersion are thought to be responsible for a significant number of open water deaths each year. Previous research has demonstrated that the magnitude of these responses can be reduced by repeated immersions in cold waterwhether the site of habituation is central or peripheral. 2. Two groups of subjects undertook two 3 min head-out immersions in stirred water at 10 C of the right-hand side of the body (R). Between these two immersions (3 whole days) the control group (n = 7) were not exposed to cold water, but the habituation group (n = 8) undertook a further six 3 min head-out immersions in stirred water at 10 C of the left-hand side of the body (L). 3. Repeated L immersions reduced (P < 0.01) the heart rate, respiratory frequency and volume responses. During the second R immersion a reduction (P < 0.05) in the magnitude of the responses evoked was seen in the habituation group but not in the control group, despite both groups having identical skin temperature profiles. 4. It is concluded that the mechanisms involved in producing habituation of the initial responses are located more centrally than the peripheral receptors.

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