Are you constantly nudging the thermostat up or putting on a sweater when others are wearing t-shirts? We all have different reactions to cold. But some people have cold intolerance, a hypersensitivity to cold temperatures. These individuals experience feelings of extreme cold in a way that’s more severe than the temperature warrants.
So when are your shivers a sign of an underlying health concern? “Your doctor can answer that question. By evaluating all of your symptoms, your physician can help identify whether your cold sensitivity is due to an underlying health condition or just a personal tendency,” says Dominic Fano, D.O., a family practice physician at Henry Ford Health.
Dr. Fano explains the potential causes of cold intolerance, when to seek medical care and how to reduce your symptoms.
What Causes Cold Intolerance?
Several conditions may cause you to feel colder than others in the same environment. These conditions include:
- Anemia: People with anemia don’t have enough red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. Without adequate oxygen, it may be harder for your cells to tolerate cold.
- Anorexia: This eating disorder causes weight loss, malnutrition and low body weight. Without enough weight, people are more likely to get chilled more easily.
- Chronic conditions: Cold hypersensitivity is a common symptom for people with chronic inflammatory diseases, such as lupus or fibromyalgia. Individuals with diabetes can have kidney and circulation problems that cause sensitivity to cold.
- Hypothyroidism: This condition occurs when your thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone to regulate your metabolism and body temperature. With hypothyroidism, your body slows down to conserve energy. Your temperature drops, making you even more sensitive to cold.
- Peripheral artery disease: Over time, a substance called plaque can build up in your arteries, causing peripheral artery disease. As a result, blood flow is slowed to your hands and feet, making them more likely to feel discomfort from cool temperatures.
- Raynaud’s disease: Cold intolerance is a common symptom for people with Raynaud’s disease. This condition occurs when tiny blood vessels in the extremities spasm, leading to feelings of cold, numbness and tingling. Hands and feet may also turn blue or white in response to cold temperatures.
When Should You See A Doctor?
“If you’ve recently begun to have cold sensitivity and your symptoms are worsening, consult your physician,” says Dr. Fano. “Share information about your cold intolerance even if you’ve experienced these symptoms for a long time.”
Your doctor can evaluate whether your cold sensitivity may be due to a health condition. During your appointment, your physician may:
- Ask about your medical history, symptoms and medications
- Perform a physical exam
- Schedule a blood test
If you have an underlying health condition causing your symptoms, your doctor can work with you to determine the best treatment option.
Lifestyle Habits To Help Reduce Cold Intolerance
Although sensitivity to cold can result from an underlying condition that requires treatment, Dr. Fano also advises some lifestyle changes that can help:
- Dressing in layers: Keep a sweater or light jacket handy to put on when you start feeling cold. Wear extra gloves or use hand warmers when heading out into cold weather.
- Eat a balanced diet: Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Your body needs adequate weight, plus vitamins and nutrients to help maintain your body temperature.
- Get moving: Exercise can raise your body temperature. Add multiple sessions of snack-sized exercise into your day to reduce cold sensitivity.
- Stay hydrated: Dehydration can increase your sensitivity to cold. Aim to drink about 64 ounces of non-caffeinated, sugar-free beverages daily.
Dr. Dominic Fano is a family medicine doctor who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center - Troy.