Arctic health: Arctic diseases



This disaase is characterised by headache, profound spatial disorientation, micro-seizures (for a few seconds) and seizures. It is due to photic stimulation when sunlight flashes through the rotor blades of a helicopter


Horizontal nystagmus induced by intermittent photic stimulation of one eye, as with the rotating blades of a helicopter


Temporary painful loss of vision due to exposure to sunlight reflecting up from ice and snow. It is also called photokeratitis, which is a sunburnt cornea

Symptoms include photophobia, pain, watery eye, constriction of pupil, temporary changes in colour

Treat pain, wear UV protected sunglasses, apply cold washing cloth


A period of increased risk due loss of vision in snowy weather conditions. The horizon disappears and there are no reference points. There are no shadows.

In the one type when the weather is calm foreground snow and background snow merges as uniform. The risk is that cyclists may drive off a cliff with their skidoo’s.

The other type of white-out is when the weather is not calm and a blizzard surrounds the person outside. It xan be so severe that one cannot even your own hand stretched before your eyes.

White-outs can also be triggered by fog.


It is ice that forms a thin glazed coating on the surface of other snow, rocks or fresh or sea water. One can find it under ice stations where the heat of the station melts the ice and then refreezes it.

It is extremely slippery and the first you may come to know about it is when the back of your head hits the surface after flipping over backwards. To walk over such surfaces you need to wear crampons and supported by an ice pick.

It is transparent and invisible. It is called black ice because when water freezes over it can look black in colour.


This is a wet-cold disease which occurs when wet boots are worn in cold weather. It can develop within 3 days and the skin starts breaking down. It can incapacitate a sailor or ice-worker. It has  also been described occurring on the skin of the hands, among persons wearing wet cold gloves for extended periods of time. In contrast with trench foot immersion foot is a wet foot syndrome that occurs at higher temperatures; above 10 degrees Celsius. Immersion foot leads to skin, nerve and muscle damage and can be associated by pungent smells as the skin starts sloughing. Immersion foot can itch, be painful and lead to cellulitis of the feet, which can migrate up the legs. Just as in trench foot, it can also affect the hands when wet gloves are worn. Sailors are prone to developing immersion foot when they sail and work in tropical areas


This condition is caused by freezing of skin and underlying tissue. The area initially becomes cold and red, then numb and pale. It is initiated especially by cold, windy weather.

Treatment includes dressings (paraffin gauze works well as it the condition behaves very much the same as a first, second or third degree burn wound. It may be necessary to elevate the injured limb. Antibiotic coverage, debridement and amputation may be indicated. Hyperbaric oxygen can assist if available.

Do not warm the tissue if there is a risk that the tissue is going to refreeze shortly. Gently rewarm the tissue at 37 degrees Celsius to 40 degrees Celsius for 25 – 30 minutes


These are red itchy hives caused by cold exposure. It can be triggered by swimming in cold water. It can lead to hypotension, shock and even death. Treat with antihistamine


This condition is also chillblains or pernio. These are small itchy painful red swellings of fingers or toes. It is an abnormal skin reaction to cold; occasionally characterised by blistering and secondary infection. It lasts for 7 to 14 days