VHI’s Dr Bernadette Carr: cold fingers

I have always suffered from the cold, last winter it got worse and at times my fingers were freezing. 

I have read a little about Raynaud’s and wonder if this could be the cause. I am a woman and in my late 30s.

There are a number of reasons why you might have felt cold. It could be as a result of a circulation problem where the small blood vessels (those at the tips of your fingers) narrow when exposed to the cold. The blood vessels in the toes can also be affected as these small vessels are more sensitive to the cold.

In most cases the cause is unknown. Being sensitive to the cold could also be an indication of an underactive thyroid gland. It is important you make an appointment to see your GP, who can examine you and discuss this sensitivity.

In the meantime here are some general suggestions:

* Avoid sudden temperature changes when going from a warm to a cold area; put your gloves on before you go out. Keep your hands and feet warm — wear thermal gloves, warm coat, hat, scarf and thick socks when outdoors and bed socks in bed.

* To increase blood flow to the fingers rotate the arms in a windmill pattern or swing the both arms above the shoulders forcefully.

* Avoid carrying bags by the handles since they impair circulation to the fingers.

* Leave your shoes and clothes in the hot press overnight to warm.

* Stop smoking and avoid caffeine. Avoid touching cold objects directly, use a dishcloth or oven gloves if you have to put in or take out food from the freezer.

* Regular exercise and keeping well hydrated helps the circulation.

* If your fingers get cold, you can warm them by soaking them in warm running water (this also works for toes). Make sure that the water is not hot as it is easy to damage the skin if the circulation is reduced. Dry them straight away to stop your fingers getting cold again. Before you go to bed, warm the bed with a hot water bottle or electric blanket.

* Have regular hot meals and hot drinks between meals to keep warm.

Your GP will be able to reassure and advise as to the appropriate treatment.

My nine-year-old son had a chest infection last year and made a full recovery. Since then any time he gets a cold or even sneezes he asks if the infection has come back and gets anxious. Should I bring him to his GP?

I am sure that the infection must have been distressing so it is understandable that he would have occasional worries about his health. However, I am sure you want to avoid that these worries end up becoming a bigger problem in themselves.

Some people who are anxious about their health have unexplained symptoms which they believe to be signs of a serious illness. Others are just overly concerned about their health. There are many reasons why someone is anxious about their health, they may be under stress, had a recent illness or they may be someone who is in general a ‘worrier’.

The key to handling these worries is reassurance for your son from you and his GP. When he asks if the infection has come back and is anxious, make time to sit and talk to him. Using language that he understands, explain that although he had an infection because he took his medicine and you looked after him that he is better. Sometimes, both adults and children get coughs and colds, this is normal, Mum will be there to look after him and he will get better quickly.

Your GP will also be able to offer reassurance and it might be useful to make an appointment for your son. When you telephone to make the appointment, you could explain the purpose of the visit. Your GP will be able to talk to your son about illness and how children from time to time will be unwell, just like him they make a full recovery.


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