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Icy Hot: Hot Enough to Take Your Skin Right Off

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Chattanooga, TN: People have bad dreams of running away from a fire, but not being able to run. Your legs are heavy and slow. You strain desperately to move but can't, while the flames get closer. Some have likened the Icy Hot pain patches to such a scenario. Not only have they been found to foster serious burns, but also the adhesive can make them difficult to remove.

Skin BurnChattem Inc, of Chattanooga Tennessee, initiated a voluntary recall of the Icy Hot Heat Therapy Air Activated Heat Patch for Back, Arm, Neck and Leg earlier this year after numerous adverse reports of first, second and third-degree burns to the skin—not to mention skin irritation and actual skin removal resulting from the use of the patches.

So how do they work, anyway?

The patch is shipped in a red-colored, sealed plastic pouch. According to a product description on the official web site of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), chemicals contained in the patch are activated once the patch is opened and exposed to air. Initially feeling cool when applied to the skin, the patch heats up over time. The combination of cool, followed by heat is designed to mimic the process of icing a stressed muscle or joint after an injury, then soothing the affected area with warmth. The patches were designed to relieve muscle and joint pain associated with arthritis, backache, muscle strains and sprains.

A good idea. However, like a lot of good ideas that sometimes work better in theory than in practice, consumers were getting burned—literally.

To understand the injury, one must understand the physiology. There are three types of burns, and the type of burn is determined by how deeply the burn penetrates the skin, of which there are two primary layers. The 'degree' of burn is determined by how each layer is affected.

First Degree burns are the least severe, and affect the top layer of skin. The epidermis is damaged but not destroyed, and turns bright pink or very red, akin to a sunburn.

Second Degree burns occur when the burn damage has penetrated and destroyed the uppermost layer of skin (epidermis), and has reached the second layer. Second-degree burns are often characterized by blisters, or with epidermal skin that slides off. Of the three kinds, a second-degree burn is the most painful.

Third Degree burns are the worst, even though there may be little pain. That's because the catalyst has burned through, destroyed both layers of skin and has damaged the nerves, explaining the numbness some people feel. The exposed wound appears white, gray, yellow, brown or black and is usually dry.

One can imagine the kind of heat that has the potential to cause such an injury. And yet, the Icy Hot family of air activated pain patches have been known to foster all three levels of burns. Not only has the skin been damaged by the heat generated by the product, but is impacted further given the strong adhesive inherent with the product in an effort to keep it in place. That adhesive has been described as robust. A video making the rounds on You Tube features someone removing back hair with an Icy Hot patch.

Just imagine the feeling when strong adhesive, on an extremely large surface like an Icy Hot Heat Therapy Back patch, is ripped from a fresh sunburn. Worse, if the burn advances to the second-degree stage and blisters form, the destroyed uppermost layer of skin has been known to come right off with the patch. As this is the most painful of all three levels of burn injury, one can imagine the excruciating discomfort that results.

Chattem Inc, the manufacturer, issued a voluntary recall February 8th of this year involving 2.3 million Icy Hot Heat Therapy Air Activated Heat patches distributed in the US since December of 2006, when manufacturing of the products in question began. Critics have been vocal with regard to a number of adverse affect, and injury reports allegedly received by the company up to 14 months before the recall was triggered. It is felt that had the company reacted sooner, many consumers would have been spared painful injury.

Injuries for which they are now seeking damages through the courts…

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