Cold intolerance is more than the normal feelings of chilliness that come from an autumn or winter's day. It's an extreme sensitivity to cold temperatures that may indicate serious underlying health problems. We have the information to help you identify cold intolerance, understand what could be causing it, plus suggestions to help naturally treat this condition.
The Symptoms of Cold Intolerance
Everyone feels cold when the weather is cold, but cold intolerance involves specific physical symptoms that go far beyond simply shivering in the snow. If you are always the coldest person in every room, review these symptoms to find out if you're experiencing cold intolerance.
1. "Freezing" or Blue Extremities
People with cold intolerance experience what's described as "icy" cold hands and feet. If your fingers and toes are consistently and inexplicably cold, it could mean you have poor circulation, which itself could indicate a blood vessel problem or other serious underlying health condition. This is especially true if your hands or feet turn blue from a lack of healthy, oxygenated blood flow.
2. Pale Skin
By pale skin, we don't mean your natural melanin pigment, but the ashen sort of paleness that can accompany conditions such as anemia. Anemia is characterized by a lack of sufficient red blood cell content. If your skin appears waxen or unhealthily pale and you also experience feelings of extreme cold, your body is probably telling you that you're unwell.
3. Warm Layers Don't Help
When you're healthy, bundling up against winter weather or icy-cold air conditioning allows your body to retain the warmth it creates. If you can't warm up with fuzzy socks, gloves, sweaters, jackets, blankets, etc., it could mean your body isn't producing the normal amount of heat that proper functioning gives off.
4. Rash Development
Rashes or swelling that develops when you're exposed to cold environments could be a sign of cold urticaria, which is literally an allergy to cold weather. There are more details regarding this condition in the following section, but symptoms such as rashes or hives in response to cold air is a clear indication that something is wrong.
5. Cold Nose
Most people come in from the cold with rosy cheeks, ears, and noses because blood rushes to those areas when they're exposed to the frigid air. However, a consistently cold nose is another potential sign of underlying dysfunction, just like chronically cold hands and feet. Specifically, Raynaud's disease or phenomenon could be the underlying cause, as it's a condition that affects the smaller vessels in your fingers, toes, and nose.
Possible Causes of Cold Intolerance
If you suspect your abnormal sensitivity to cold means your health is compromised, seek the advice of a board-certified medical professional. A physical examination coupled with a clear description of your symptoms could help your health care provider narrow down the issue and get you the proper treatment. These are some of the common conditions associated with cold intolerance.
- Anemia: Iron deficiency and low levels of vitamin B12 can lead to anemia, which is characterized by a lack of sufficient healthy red blood cells. Without enough red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body, the extremities become cold and blue among other symptoms including breathlessness, cramps, and fatigue.
- Raynaud’s disease: Raynaud's phenomenon and other vascular conditions restrict normal blood flow to your extremities, causing them to feel cold and sometimes turn blue from lack of oxygenated blood flow.
- Anorexia nervosa: Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves unhealthy calorie restriction to the point of starvation and can result in malnutrition, anemia, and having very little body fat, each of which could cause symptoms of cold intolerance.
- Disordered hypothalamus: The hypothalamus (located at the base of the brain) acts as a thermostat for your body temperature to help you warm up or cool down based on your environment. The hypothalamus also helps direct your thyroid gland via hormone creation.
- Underactive thyroid: The thyroid (a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck) regulates metabolism and the calories burned for energy, fuel, and heat. Hypothyroidism occurs when you don't have enough thyroid hormones for normal function, and feeling unnaturally cold may be one of the symptoms along with dry skin, fatigue, unexplained weight gain, depressed mood, constipation, thinning hair, or irregular periods in women.
- Fibromyalgia: This chronic condition consists of full-body musculoskeletal pains and aches surrounding trigger point areas. Fibromyalgia's other symptoms include fatigue and cold intolerance.
- Cold urticaria: Also known as "cold hives," cold urticaria causes large, itchy red welts to form on the skin (particularly the hands and feet) as a response to cold exposure.
- Frostbite: Any area of skin that has been frostbitten is always more susceptible to cold and more likely to suffer from frostbite again if not protected from cold temperatures.
Diagnosing cold intolerance usually involves a doctor taking your medical history, calling for blood tests and possible hormone level tests, and evaluating your health information in toto. If there is an underlying condition that can be treated, your medical record will travel with you as you are referred to either a psychological or internal medicine specialist, whichever is appropriate for you.
Treatment Options for Cold Intolerance
Depending on your diagnosis, medical treatment will vary, but here are some general natural aids you can apply at home that may help you feel better—and warmer—faster.
1. Amino Acids
Amino acids are necessary for hormone creation and regulation in the thyroid, and while most amino acids stay stable in cases of iron deficiency, the essential amino acid lysine is compromised by prolonged iron starvation and anemia.
Moreover, amino acids are needed for the survival of endothelial cells that line our blood vessels. This means that above and beyond building and maintaining muscle cells in our bodies, essential amino acids (EAAs) also play a role in three of the most common causes of cold intolerance and are a natural way to boost your health and strength.
For those suffering from malnutrition due to anorexia, amino acid supplementation may help rebuild musculature during treatment, but ask your doctor before adding any new dietary supplement to your intake in such a case.
2. Iron and B12 Foods and Supplements
Iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies are the two leading culprits when it comes to anemia. Each of these nutrients can be easily supplemented or found naturally in foods.
- Iron foods: Consume nuts like cashews, legumes like lentils, veggies like spinach, and animal foods like eggs to naturally boost your iron intake.
- Vitamin B12 foods: Vitamin B12 is found in animal foods like meat, dairy, poultry, eggs, and fish, and is included in fortified breakfast cereals for vegans and vegetarians since it is not generally found in plant foods.
That being said, if the issue with these deficiencies isn't lack of intake but lack of absorption, you still need to work with a medical professional to find out what the underlying issue may be.
3. Artificial Warmth
Whatever is causing your cold intolerance, here are simple ways to warm up ASAP while you seek and pursue medical treatment.
- Hand warmers: Chemical hand-warming packets or electrically charged hand-warming "eggs" can be purchased and carried around to help warm your hands in the winter and beyond. These products can help relieve your discomfort and draw blood flow to your fingers.
- Hot beverages: Hot water with lemon and honey is great for a sore throat, and also for quickly warming up your body. The membranes of your mouth absorb heat quickly, and swallowing warm liquid (tea, coffee, hot cocoa) directly warms your esophagus and increases the temperature in your torso.
- An electric blanket: At home or in the office, an electric blanket can help warm your feet, legs, and body with heat generated from an electrical outlet.
4. Sleep Well
Sleep deprivation has been scientifically shown to interrupt your body temperatures, and while the mechanisms are not fully understood, getting a good night's sleep may help you defeat cold intolerance. Theories suggest it could be due to sleep's link with our metabolisms, but whatever the reason, consistently cozy nights of sleep could warm you up throughout the day.
Water makes up about 60% of the adult human body and helps regulate our temperatures just as much as hormones and the brain do. When sufficiently hydrated, your body is better able to trap and regulate heat, while dehydration (more likely in cold, dry winter weather) leaves all of us more susceptible to extreme temperatures, especially those with cold intolerance.
Don't Tolerate Cold Intolerance
It's easy to assume you're cold all the time because that's just the way you are built, but if cold intolerance is a persistent, chronic complaint all year round, and especially if it's a new development, consult a health care professional to rule out underlying medical conditions. Worst-case scenario you gain peace of mind, and best-case scenario you discover a problem before it becomes a disaster, and find a way to warm up and be more comfortable in your own skin.