Why Operating Rooms Are So Cold

Operating rooms are often cold. Often a patient undergoing surgery asks, "Why is it so cold in here?" And the response, almost invariably, "It helps lower the risk of infection..." The problem is, that's completely false. In fact, operating rooms kept cold actually increase the risk of infection. Why is that the case? When a patient's body temperature cools, the risk of infection goes up.

Surgeons performing open heart surgery
Thierry Dosogne / Getty Images

Body Temperature and Infections

It turns out, one of the critical factors to preventing infection is the adequacy of blood flow and the supply of oxygen to tissues. When in a cold environment, the blood vessels of your skin constrict (that's why your skin turns pale in cold weather). Your body constricts blood vessels in cold environments so as not to waste heat—a process called thermoregulation.

The second factor is that your immune system is actually weakened by hypothermia. Therefore, maintaining normal body temperature during surgery will help your body fight infection.

So Why Is It So Cold in the OR?

The real reason operating rooms are kept so cool is for the comfort of OR personnel, specifically the surgeon. When wearing a sterile gown for a length of time, especially while standing under warm OR lights, your surgeon can become quite hot. The room is often kept cool to keep the surgeon and the staff more comfortable.

What You Can Do

  • Ask that the room be kept at a reasonable temperature.
  • Let the staff know when you are cold and ask for warm blankets.
  • Special warming devices can be used to keep you warm during surgery while not warming the entire room. Ask your anesthesiologist about using such a device.

Many people, including some operating room personnel, are surprised to learn these facts as it has been thought by many people that cold rooms prevent infection. However, as it is becoming better understood that temperature is an important factor used to prevent infection, this is being addressed. Most ORs now require specific steps, such as the use of warming devices, be used for any surgical procedure over a specified length of time.

As mentioned, the best thing you can do is ask to be kept warm. While surgeons and other OR staff want to be comfortable, their priority is your comfort, and if they know you are feeling cold, they will surely take the aforementioned steps to help ensure your comfort.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Torossian A, Bräuer A, Höcker J, Bein B, Wulf H, Horn EP. Preventing inadvertent perioperative hypothermiaDtsch Arztebl Int. 2015;112(10):166–172. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2015.0166

  2. Hakim M, Walia H, Dellinger HL, et al. The effect of operating room temperature on the performance of clinical and cognitive tasksPediatr Qual Saf. 2018;3(2):e069. doi:10.1097/pq9.0000000000000069

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.