Cooling gloves may help reduce the effects of peripheral neuropathy due to chemotherapy, including symptoms such as pain, tingling, and numbness in the hands.

Peripheral neuropathy is damage to the peripheral nerves, which are the nerves outside of the central nervous system. When nerve damage occurs as a side effect of chemotherapy, healthcare professionals call it chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN).

CIPN can cause symptoms in the hands and feet, such as pins and needles, weakness, and a burning feeling. However, some people may find that cooling gloves help relieve these symptoms.

This article examines how effective cooling gloves are, how to use them, and when to speak with a doctor about chemotherapy side effects.

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Cooling gloves for chemotherapy are a form of cryotherapy, a treatment that uses very cold or freezing temperatures. Gloves may be tight or mitten-like and may require freezing for a set amount of time before wearing.

Cryotherapy to treat CIPN uses vasoconstriction, a narrowing of the blood vessels, to reduce chemotherapy drug distribution and side effects.

People may also wear cooling socks for symptoms affecting the feet or a cooling cap, which may help prevent hair loss due to chemotherapy.

The authors of a 2020 review concluded that there is not yet enough evidence to know whether peripheral cooling can prevent CIPN.

They suggest that larger randomized controlled trials are necessary to help researchers fully understand the effects of cooling therapies for CIPN.

However, some people may find that cooling gloves relieve the symptoms of CIPN. A person can speak with their doctor about current research findings when deciding whether cooling gloves suit them.

Current research

In a 2020 study, researchers looked at the effects of frozen gloves on 180 people receiving chemotherapy for cancer. They split the participants into two groups: those wearing frozen gloves on both hands during cancer treatment and those not wearing gloves.

In 34% of cases, participants stopped treatment with the frozen gloves, largely due to discomfort. There were no reports of lasting side effects, such as frostbite.

The study found no significant improvements in CIPN subscales in participants who wore frozen gloves during chemotherapy treatment. However, participants who wore the gloves reported better function and quality of life than those who did not.

In a small 2020 pilot study, researchers examined the effects of a continuous flow thermoregulator device, Hilotherm, on 64 people receiving chemotherapy. The device involved cooling cuffs and tubes on the hands and feet, with a constant temperature of 10°C (50°F).

The results suggested that continuous cooling with the gloves and socks may help prevent or reduce CIPN symptoms. The researchers also found the cooling devices to be safe and tolerable.

Cooling gloves vs. ice packs

Another form of cryotherapy is the topical application of crushed ice to the hands and feet. People can freeze some cooling gloves so that they are at the same temperature as crushed ice.

However, cooling gloves surround the entire hand, and topical ice application may not be able to achieve that.

In a 2020 study that used frozen gloves, 34% of participants discontinued the study, mostly due to discomfort.

The results of a 2020 pilot study suggest that continuous cooling with gloves at a temperature of 10°C (50°F) may be more tolerable than ice or frozen gloves and may have better outcomes.

The style of the glove and duration of cooling may vary. For example, a 2020 multicenter study used cooling gloves that fully covered the hands to the wrist, keeping the thumb separate from the hand.

The researchers placed the gloves in a freezer at −20°C (–4°F) for 3 hours before use. Participants wore the gloves for 15 minutes before receiving chemotherapy, for 1–2 hours during the treatment, and for 15 minutes after the treatment.

People repeated this process for every chemotherapy treatment, changing the frozen gloves every 45 minutes.

In another 2020 study, participants wore cooling cuffs on their hands and feet at a constant temperature of 10°C (50°F). People wore the cuffs for 30 minutes before starting chemotherapy treatment and for 60 minutes after treatment.

People who are experiencing CIPN can work with their healthcare team to determine the best cooling glove usage for them.

Before undergoing cancer treatment, people can discuss potential side effects, such as CIPN, with a doctor.

During chemotherapy treatment, healthcare professionals will monitor people for symptoms of CIPN. A person should let their doctor know if they experience any symptoms of CIPN or if symptoms worsen.

If a person has CIPN, their doctor may change the chemotherapy dosage, delay treatment, or change the medication that is causing CIPN until symptoms improve. This is important to help prevent long-term damage.

If a person has symptoms of CIPN that make daily activities difficult, they can talk with a doctor about how to improve functioning or manage discomfort and pain.

A person can also talk with a doctor about safe levels of exercise and any exercises that may be beneficial.

Other treatment options for CIPN

People may also want to discuss with a doctor other potential ways to ease symptoms of CIPN. The American Cancer Society lists the following options:

Certain chemotherapy drugs can cause peripheral neuropathy as a side effect.

Cooling gloves and socks are a type of cryotherapy that uses cold temperatures to restrict blood vessels and limit the amount of chemotherapy that reaches the hands and feet.

Some research suggests that cooling gloves may help improve symptoms of CIPN, but some people may not be able to tolerate the low temperature of frozen gloves.

Further research is necessary to determine whether cooling gloves are an effective way to prevent or reduce CIPN symptoms.