Cold intolerance is when you’re extremely sensitive to cold temperatures. Cold intolerance is more severe than the normal feeling of chilliness when you’re outdoors on a cool day.
Some people are prone to feeling cold, especially those who have chronic health problems or little body fat. If you have cold intolerance, you’ll likely find yourself complaining of cold when others around you are comfortable or even too warm. Simply adding extra layers of clothing may not relieve your feeling of being cold. It’s also possible to experience sensitivity to cold in certain parts of your body, such as your hands.
See your doctor for an evaluation if you have no history of cold intolerance, and the problem of feeling cold persists. Your treatment will depend on your diagnosis.
What causes cold intolerance?
Your body temperature is regulated by several different systems. A part of the brain called the hypothalamus acts as the body’s thermostat to regulate your body temperature. It sends messages to the body that regulate heat production or ways to cool down.
The hypothalamus also directs the thyroid gland to increase or decrease your body’s metabolism. The thyroid is a crucial part of this regulation. It has to be functioning properly to burn calories in the body to create heat and fuel.
Your blood flow, which helps spread the heat, and your body fat, which helps to maintain it, are also important. Cold intolerance can be the result of problems with one or a combination of these processes.
Cold intolerance may also be due to poor overall health, or it could be a symptom of a variety of health conditions, including:
- Anemia. This condition develops when you have a lack of healthy red blood cells.
- Anorexia. This eating disorder leads to loss of body fat.
- Hypothyroidism. This disorder occurs when the thyroid does not make enough thyroid hormones.
- Blood vessel (vascular) problems. These disorders (such as Raynaud’s phenomenon) restrict blood flow to your extremities.
- Disorders of the hypothalamus. This area of the brain produces hormones that control body temperature.
- Fibromyalgia. This chronic condition causes body-wide pain and discomfort.
Skin that has been previously injured, such as by frostbite, may remain sensitive to cold even after the injury has healed.
Diagnosing cold intolerance
If this is a new symptom, and it’s not getting better, you should make an appointment for a complete medical examination. Your doctor will take a medical history and ask you some questions, including:
- Do you have any previously diagnosed conditions?
- Do you take prescription or over-the-counter medications or supplements?
- When did you begin to experience cold intolerance?
- Are your symptoms getting worse?
- Are there times you complain of being cold when others around you do not?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- Are you eating well and exercising regularly?
Depending on the outcome of a physical exam, your doctor may order additional tests, including blood tests and hormone level tests, to determine if you have any underlying diseases.
Treatment for cold intolerance
Cold intolerance is not an illness, it’s a symptom of an underlying condition. Your treatment will depend entirely on the diagnosis you receive from your doctor. Causes of cold intolerance that you may be treated for include:
If you have anemia, treatment will be based on the cause of the anemia. This may include taking iron supplements.
Treating anorexia is a long-term process. Medications may be used to address specific symptoms. The support of a complete medical team, including nutrition and healthy lifestyle experts, is generally needed. It’s also recommended that you work with psychological counselors and support groups.
Hypothyroidism is treated with oral synthetic hormones that are taken daily. Treatment is usually lifelong, but dosages may be adjusted from time to time.
Vascular problems can be treated in a variety of ways, depending on the cause. Surgery and medication may be used in severe cases.
Disorders of the hypothalamus
Disorders of the hypothalamus will be treated based on the specific cause. Treatment includes surgery or radiation for tumors, hormone replacement, or procedures to stop bleeding or infection.
Treatment for fibromyalgia is generally targeted toward relieving your symptoms. Options include medications for pain, physical therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Support groups are recommended.
What is the outlook for cold intolerance?
If you suffer from cold intolerance, make sure to dress appropriately during cold weather. Wear warm layers and keep those areas that are most sensitive covered up to prevent cold exposure. On extremely cold days, try and stay inside as much as possible. If you think that you could be suffering from cold intolerance or another medical condition, call your doctor. They can figure out if you have an underlying medical problem and start you on treatment.