5 Subtle Signs You’re Cold Intolerant & What To Do About It

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During the cold season, some of us love tramping out into the freezing temperatures and getting a numb nose, while others would prefer to huddle inside with a hot chocolate and ignore the outside world until spring. For a small subsection of the population, though, cold weather is more than just an inconvenience: it causes pain and problems with their daily functioning. It's an issue known as cold sensitivity or cold intolerance. "Cold sensitivity is an elusive condition that has previously been defined as an exaggerated or abnormal reaction to cold exposure, causing discomfort or the avoidance of cold," wrote Swedish researchers in 2018. However, it's not widely known, so you may be seriously sensitive to cold without knowing about it.

Having cold intolerance isn't just really hating getting cold (most of us don't like it very much); it's a mix of symptoms and metabolic regulation that makes cold exposure painful and annoying. Mount Sinai Health says that low body fat and circulation issues can often cause cold intolerance: they list things like anemia, Raynaud's phenomenon, or general poor health as possible underlying issues. If you experience serious aversion to the cold all of a sudden, it could be an important symptom to bring up to your doctor. Even if it's not related to an underlying health issue, though, cold sensitivity can manifest in some interesting ways. Here are some subtle but serious signs of cold intolerance.

1. Your Fingers Are Always Paler In Cold Weather

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Researchers in 1998 identified four major symptoms of cold sensitivity: "pain/discomfort, stiffness, altered sensibility and colour [sic] change." The last one is the most subtle, and it's particularly common in extremities like your fingers.

In cold-sensitive conditions like Raynaud's phenomenon, fingers that are exposed to cold first lose blood flow and turn pale and numb, then display blueness and, eventually, turn red and painful when the blood returns to warm them. The arteries in the fingers have closed in response to the 'stress' of the cold. If you aren't cold-sensitive, pale skin should only show up after a long period out in freezing weather with no protection, and is a signal that you might have frostbite, according to the NHS. But if you notice that your fingers go a bit numb and pale after a bit of time outside, even inside gloves or warm mittens, you're likely cold-sensitive.

2. You Get Migraines After Time In A Cold Environment

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For a long time, migraine specialists have noticed that for some people, cold weather appears to be a migraine trigger. There have been several theories about why this is so, including shifting barometric pressure and increased dehydration. However, the 2018 Swedish study on cold sensitivity, which interviewed nearly 13,000 Swedes and identified 502 cases of sensitivity, found that in women in particular, migraines appear to be tied to the condition.

"Women [with cold sensitivity] showed associations with rheumatic disease, migraines, and cumulative cold exposure," the study says — and that's the first time that's been identified. If you get migraines in fiercely cold temperatures and also experience stiffness and poor blood flow to your fingers, it's likely you've got cold sensitivity.

3. You Have Pain In Old Injuries When It's Cold

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This sounds like an old wives' tale, but it turns out to be a genuine symptom of cold intolerance: people who've had traumatic injuries, particularly if they involved nerve damage, can experience cold intolerance in the injury even when it's completely healthy again. "Skin that has been previously injured, such as by frostbite, may remain sensitive to cold even after the injury has healed," says Healthline.

Even if the rest of your body is fine, traumatic injuries seem to be prone to cold intolerance — especially if they're on hands or feet. "Symptoms may begin immediately after injury, but are more likely to develop with the first onset of cold weather if there is a lag period between injury and onset", said the 1998 study.

4. It Takes You Ages To Warm Up Again

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According to a Japanese study of cold intolerance in 2010, people who experience it not only have very cold extremities, they also take quite a lot of time to warm up when they've been put in a freezing environment. This symptom, which the researchers called "slow recovery of skin temperature after a low temperature stimulus revelation," basically means that when everybody else has recovered from sub-zero temperatures with a bit of hot chocolate and time by the heater, you're still shivering.

5. You're Cold No Matter How Many Layers You Wear

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One sweater, another sweater, long johns, cashmere, four hats and a fur coat, and you're still freezing in cold weather? Sounds like cold intolerance. One of the major symptoms of cold sensitivity, Claudia Gambrah-Sampaney wrote for Buoy Health, is "cold that does not resolve despite adding extra layers of clothing." If you're cold intolerant, things that would normally relieve sensations of cold, like added clothes, don't really help your feelings, and you continue to shiver and feel under-heated while wearing them.

There are many diverse causes of cold sensitivity, from metabolic issues to chronic illnesses. If you do experience serious cold intolerance, it may be a signal that you have an underlying condition that needs to be checked out, so bundle up and book a visit to your GP.