Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, in a hot tropical country there was a boy named Luc whose uncles, aunts and cousins used to come to visit his family in the city from faraway villages. Luca always had the fan going. But when his relatives used to visit, they always asked Luc to turn off the fans as they complained of pain in their limbs attributed to the air from the fans. The moment Luc turned off the fan, their aches went away. Luc would tell himself that as his cousins did not have fans in their homes, they could not tolerate the fan. It must be caused by their rustic lives. Guess what? Luc is now 35 years old and finds he cannot tolerate direct fan air. He gets the same kind of aches in his limbs that his relatives used to complain about, especially if he does not wear long-sleeve shirts or pajama bottoms. So, how come he became like his so-called rustic cousins who could not tolerate fans?
There are lot of causes for the pain in the limbs. Raynaud phenomenon is one of them. The very same trend is also found among people who live in a cold climate like Canada during winter. If they go outside when it’s cold, they get aches in their limbs, hands, feet, fingers and toes. Also they may suffer pain in their earlobes, the tips of their noses, their faces and sometimes their nipples.
Raynaud phenomenon affects about two to five per cent of the population. It passes down to succeeding generations through genes and it usually affects women more than men. It sometimes affects younger people under the age of 30. So, how does it happen? In our body, the blood vessels underneath the skin maintain the body temperature. When the outside temperature falls, the blood vessels shrink in order to maintain the core body temperature and when the outside temperature rises, the blood vessels dilate so that the body’s core temperature decreases. This thermoregulatory system does not work in people who have Raynaud phenomenon. Therefore, with a little cold temperature outside, their blood vessels under the skin shrink too much, causing pain. The phenomenon may occur without any diseases and on some occasions it occurs due to other diseases of the immune system.
What are the symptoms of Raynaud phenomenon? The first and the foremost, when anyone is exposed to cold such as walking along the freezer aisle of a grocery store, or in ice cold Canadian weather, they feel pain in the limbs, nose tip or face. The limbs can be pale at the beginning which may turn bluish in serious cases. It is very painful for many people. The same condition can also occur due to stress or emotional changes.
So, how can we prevent this from occurring? Avoid sudden cold exposure, try to keep warm and avoid rapidly shifting temperatures such as cold breezes, and damp, cold conditions. Another helpful tip is to dress warmly, donning thermal underwear, a tuque, and wearing mittens or gloves. Some Canadian grocery stores sell arm and leg wraps made from cloth, which can give enormous comfort to the Raynaud patients.
When pain occurs, people can place the hands under warm water or in the armpits or rotate the arms in a whirling windmill pattern. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes cause blood vessels to constrict and can aggravate Raynaud phenomenon, so it is better to avoid smoking. Do not take medications that cause narrowing of the blood vessels. Stress can bring up Raynaud phenomenon, so reduce stress and use relaxation techniques to reduce anxiety. In severe cases, doctors may prescribe some medications.
Finally, we should not blame our parents for Raynaud phenomenon nor we should blame the cold winter. Instead, we ought to take precautions and some extra measures to save ourselves from the aches and pains. Some small steps can help us to enjoy the cold weather and feel good. Staying warm is the key message for this condition. We should try to keep ourselves warm by donning clothes in layers and not going outside unless we are properly dressed for the cold weather. Be happy and enjoy the season. Drink coffee, tea and other hot beverages to warm up your body.
Since completing a master’s degree in epidemiology from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Foyez Haque worked in northern and southern Ontario as an epidemiologist for more than a decade. During his tenure with several health units in Canada, he was involved in numerous public health research activities including publications in peer-reviewed journals. Currently, he is employed with the Northern Health Region as a planning and decision support analyst.