By Joe Fleming
In addition to emotional stress, a key trigger for Raynaud’s attacks is dramatic changes in temperatures in any direction, i.e. hot to cold or cold to hot. When it comes to swimming, both diving into cold water as well as moving out of a pool can bring on Raynaud’s symptoms like blood vessel constriction, hands and extremities turning white and blue and then red, as well as intense feelings of cold.
As someone with Raynaud’s, you may experience some symptoms when entering cold water, but as your body temperature adjusts and the vigorous activity of swimming warms you up, you are likely to be able to swim without an attack. For many, it’s getting out of the water that can result in a sudden onset of symptoms, including skin discoloration, throbbing, tingling, numbness, pain, and even swelling. For severe cases, symptoms can last for many hours.
Open water swims associated with triathlons may require competitors to not wear gloves when swimming, which many Raynaud’s sufferers find handy. Other water activities, like water skiing and going to water parks, can bring on uncomfortable Raynaud’s attacks as well.
So what can people with Raynaud’s do to be able to enjoy the fun of swimming and watersports, but also prevent painful and frustrating attacks?
Before a Swim
- Boost circulation prior to a swim by stretching or performing a dynamic warm up. Ten to twenty minutes of yoga, jumping jacks, jump squats, or brisk walking can help get your heart rate up, thus increasing the rate at which blood is circulating through your body.
- If possible (and allowed) wear a thermal swimming cap as well as swimming gloves and water shoes/swimming booties which will help your body maintain a higher internal temperature while you swim.
- Wear a wetsuit to trap in heat while you swim, or even layer with disposable heat packs or a dry suit under your wetsuit for added protection. Put the wetsuit on at home if possible before heading for a swim.
- Set out a towel or terry cloth robe, and multiple layers of clothing to have at the ready when you’re done swimming.
After a Swim
- Have a warm shower right away or sit on a shower stool with warm water running over you to reheat slowly. Make sure your water isn’t too hot, or stepping out of the shower into a cool, drafty dressing room may result in an attack.
- Remove your bathing suit or wetsuit as quickly as possible and completely dry off with a towel.
- Have a thermos containing a hot drink to hold onto when you get out of the pool or ocean, and eat something warm if possible as well.
- Once dressed, activate disposable hot packs to place in your gloves and socks or make use of a portable hand heater, and dry your hair (or put on a hat to trap in heat).
Going to the spa, taking a dip in a hot tub, or soaking in the Jacuzzi can also affect Raynaud’s sufferers, as stepping out of higher temperature water amplifies the feeling of cold when you are no longer in it. The same tips and best practices above like drying off quickly, getting dressed in layers, and holding a warm beverage can help. And don’t miss these handy Summer Self-care Ideas for Raynaud’s Sufferers, as well!
Do you have any special hints and tips for enjoying swimming and watersports with Raynaud’s?
Joe Fleming is the President at ViveHealth.com. Interested in all things related to living a healthy lifestyle, he enjoys sharing and expressing his passion through writing. Working to motivate others and defeat aging stereotypes, Joe uses his writing to help all people overcome the obstacles of life. Covering topics that range from physical health, wellness, and aging all the way to social, news, and inspirational pieces…the goal is help others “rebel against age”.
The title, “10 Solutions For Perpetually Cold Hands And Feet” says it all! The content in the form of an infographic includes such advice as:
- Cold remedies and migraine medicines can constrict blood vessels and make you cold.
- Eating hot peppers can result in the body sending pain signals that register as heat!
- Benefits of fatty acids for Raynaud’s (Note: Fish oil supplements can result in major side effects. Best to obtain it naturally in your diet.)
Click here for the full infographic.
We found this video created by the DidYouKnow web site that shows the three stages of color changes often experienced by Raynaud’s sufferers, and gives a very basic explanation of the condition.
Frosties may find this to be a good introduction to the disorder when explaining it to friends, family and colleagues.
One comment in the video we take issue with: It states that Raynaud’s is sometimes referred to as an “Allergy to coldness.” Raynaud’s is not an allergic reaction to the cold.
There is another condition that is also extremely sensitive to cold temperatures called Cold or Physical Urticaria. With this condition, a sufferer is literally allergic to cold temperatures. Symptoms involve breaking out in a rash and itching. Here’s the description: “Cold or physical urticaria is a condition in which red allergic skin lesions and itching are produced by exposure to cold temperatures, water, or mild trauma.”
Raynaud’s and cold urticaria are sometimes confused even in the medical community, so it’s important to know the difference and seek the proper treatment.
We discocered a web site called ColdHands.net. It was created by a Raynaud’s sufferer who has lived with the condition for over 20 years. She published this site to share her story of discovery, frustrations with the medical community, and to offer strategies she’s developed to stay warm and ward off attacks.
Most Frosties will identify with several of the events experienced by the author, including:
- Dressing to look “professional” at the expense of warmth and comfort
- Visits to doctors without the knowledge and experience to offer useful advice and treatment options
- Being labeled the “Touch of Death” by a spouse when touched
- Familiar triggers in everyday life (grocery stores, grabbing cold items and surfaces, severe stress)
- Seasonal challenges (How many Halloween costumes look good with thick, fuzzy socks?)
She offers 33 Warm Up tips , many of which most Raynaud’s sufferers may have discovered on their own (dress in layers and cover as much exposed skin as possible, windmill the arms, use disposable hand warmers, warm water over cold fingers, etc.). But she does offer some suggestions that may be new information for fellow Frosties. Here are a few of them:
- Inside Sleeves vs. Outside Pockets – She suggests tucking your hands inside your sleeves, as they are already warm from your body heat. Outside pockets are “outside” your garment and therefore inherently colder. There’s some logic to this!
- Hand Muffs – These were fashionable in earlier generations, and offer great protection from the elements if you don’t need instant access to your paws for dexterity. We agree muffs are a great option if you’re outside watching a sporting event or out walking for some fresh air and exercise. Check out this heated muff from G-Tech Apparel. It’s one of the best heated products we’ve tested to date!
- Larger Footwear – The author (wish she gave her name!) recommends buying shoes/boots a little larger to leave room for warm air to circulate. Another reason we suggest larger footwear is that feet can swell during attacks, and tight shoes will constrict your circulation, so give your toes some breathing room!
- Clothes Dryers – These appliances do more than just dry wet laundry, they offer warm clothes on demand. She suggests warming up bed clothes and blankets for warmth at bedtime. We’ve had sufferers tell us they put their gloves, socks and outerwear in the dryer for a few minutes before leaving the house on frosty days. Lots of creative ways to use dryers for more than just drying!
- Physical Activity – Beyond standard exercise, which is good for getting the circulation moving, any activity that gets you moving and/or exposes you to warmth can be beneficial. Some examples: Washing dishes in warm water, folding hot laundry, cooking with the oven going (heats up the room!), vacuuming involves some aerobic movement and weight lifting (pending the size of your machine!), and more.
- Running in Bed – This one builds on the last point. The author says she’s been doing this since she was a child: “While laying in bed on your side, start pumping your legs up and down as if you’re running in one spot and do it as fast and as long as you possibly can. Try also adding your arms into the mix by vigorously rubbing your hands up and down your thighs while you run, I find that especially effective.” Personally, I prefer using an electric mattress pad or blanket, but for those who need extra heat or prefer creating their own cocoon of warmth, give it a try!
- Chestnuts – This concept combines warmth with an easy do-it-yourself massage technique. Buy or collect some fallen chestnuts. Peel off the outer layer, throw them all into a paper bag, microwave for a couple of minutes, then sit with your feet in the bag and roll your feet back and forth over the warm chestnuts. Works with hands, too, or just use the bag as a comfy warmer.
We’re grateful to the author for putting all of this material together and hope you find some good ideas to keep you warm and toasty!
Editor’s notes: We want to clarify a couple of the questions in the site’s Welcome section. The author uses these questions to help readers identify with being Raynaud’s sufferers. The first question asks: “Allergic to the cold?” Raynaud’s is not an allergic reaction to the cold. There is another condition that is also extremely sensitive to cold temperatures called Cold or Physical Urticaria. With this condition, a sufferer is literally allergic to cold temperatures. Symptoms involve breaking out in a rash and itching. Here’s the description: “Cold or physical urticaria is a condition in which red allergic skin lesions and itching are produced by exposure to cold temperatures, water, or mild trauma.” Raynaud’s and cold urticaria are sometimes confused even in the medical community, so it’s important to know the difference and seek the proper treatment.
The second question she asks is “Do you have poor circulation?” While Raynaud’s can be caused by vascular disorders, or circulation can be impaired by more serious primary autoimmune diseases, most sufferers with the primary form of Raynaud’s have normal circulation. It’s just an issue during attacks, and the attacks are a normal human response to cold or stress sometimes referred to as the fight or flight syndrome, a natural survival response when the body feels threatened. For reasons still unexplained, Raynaud’s sufferers have a much lower threshold for this reaction. And when sufferers reach their temperature or stress threshold, the blood vessels constrict in the extremities in order to send blood to the body’s core for protecting their vital organs. Once the attack is over ( sufferer gets warm or calm again), normal circulation resumes.