Cold Hypersensitivity

Cold hypersensitivity or cold dysesthesia is a numbness, tingling or cramping in the any part of the body that starts after exposure to cold temperatures.

Some people are prone to feeling cold, especially those who have serious health problems including cancer or those who are undergoing chemotherapy. It can come on very soon after a chemotherapy infusion, but some patients may not feel it until several days later.

Cold hypersensitivity generally affects parts of the body most exposed to cold temperatures such as fingers or toes, but you can get symptoms in your mouth or throat (sometimes even laryngeal spasms) when drinking cold fluids.

How bad is my cold hypersensitivity?

Mild: Mild numbness, tingling or cramping in the hands or feet that starts after exposure to cold temperatures.

Moderate: Significant numbness, tingling or cramping in the hands or feet that starts after exposure to cold temperatures. Your symptoms are severe enough to limit instrumental activities of daily living such as preparing meals, managing money, shopping, doing house work and using a phone.

Severe: Substantial numbness, tingling or cramping in the hands or feet that starts after exposure to cold temperatures. Your symptoms are disabling enough that you are unable to fully perform self-care activities such as eating, dressing, getting into or out of a bed or chair, taking a bath or shower, and using the toilet.

How to manage mild to moderate cold hypersensitivity?

Cold hypersensitivity due to chemotherapy generally only lasts for a few days after the infusion. Best way to manage it is to be proactive and follow these tips:

  • Because this can start quickly with chemotherapies, avoid cold drinks even during the infusion. 
  • Avoid ice and all cold beverages and food.
  • Use gloves for reaching in and getting items from the fridge/cooler.
  • Sit in warm surroundings and spend time in the sun if possible.
  • Indulge in mild physical activities to increase blood circulation and reduce muscle stiffness due to the cold.
  • Wear warm clothing (e.g. sweaters, thermal gloves, thermal socks).
  • In winter, dress extra warm including gloves, hats, and scarves to cover your mouth and nose to minimize exposure to cold air. Do not breathe deeply when exposed to cold air.
  • Wear gloves if you’re doing the grocery shopping to pick up items in the refrigerated/frozen section.

If you develop symptoms, soak your exposed extremities in warm water for a few minutes. If your mouth/throat is affected, try to remain calm and drink warm fluids. Remember to drink slowly, and in small amounts to avoid choking. Avoid hot drinks as these may irritate your mouth/throat even more.

How to manage severe symptoms?

Call your health care provider if you have

  • Long-term or extreme cold hypersensitivity
  • Difficultly to warm up
  • Blue/black discoloration of fingers/thumb/toes that doesn’t improve within 1-2 minutes of warming up
  • Peeling, blisters of skin
  • Any fever (temperature above 100.4 degrees F)

What are the causes?

Cold hypersensitivity

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