February 11, 2021

Raynaud’s: The Cold Disease

People who grow up in the Midwest will tell you that when it comes to winters, like them or not, you get used to them. You learn how to drive on ice before you even get your license. You spoil yourself with things like electric car starters and electric blankets. You have proper vehicles and tires, snow removal equipment, and a wardrobe that make them tolerable. And if you’re lucky, you’ve got access to ice fishing, ice skates, snowmobiles, skis, or snowboards that can even make it fun. For people with Raynaud’s disease, however, there is no getting used to winters. This “cold disease” makes life in lower temps quite unbearable at times.

If you’re not familiar with Raynaud’s disease, here’s a summary from MedlinePlus.gov:

Raynaud’s disease is a rare disorder of the blood vessels, usually in the fingers and toes. It causes the blood vessels to narrow when you are cold or feeling stressed. When this happens, blood can’t get to the surface of the skin and the affected areas turn white and blue causing numbness, tingling, and pain.


The cause is unknown, but people in colder climates are more likely to develop Raynaud’s. It is more common in women, people with a family history, and those over age 30. The severity can vary greatly and there is no cure for it though symptoms can be managed.

How I Came to Know It

Phase 1: What’s Wrong with Me?

My 7th-grade year, I joined the track team. One of our first track meets was on a wet spring night, maybe 60 degrees, and it had been drizzling off and on for hours. I was particularly freezing compared to my teammates and my coach suggested I warm up on the bus. By the time I got to the bus, there was pin-pricking pain in my fingers. I’ll never forget looking down at them and seeing something I’d not seen before. My fingers were as white as a dead body. I legit thought I was losing them as they started to turn purple and blue. No one had an explanation for it, but after a good 20 minutes of quasi-panicking, my fingers started burning and eventually turned bright red before returning to their normal state. I didn’t know it then, but this strange occurrence would become my new norm.


Phase 2: Diagnosis

After a few repeat experiences of painful and dead-looking fingers, I told my parents about it and my dad said it happened to him also and that it was nothing to worry about. I hopped on the internet and was self-diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease. Turns out it’s genetic, really is non-threatening, and while rare overall, it’s especially rare to have it as a child. My younger brother ended up with it as well although not as severe.

Phase 3: Living with It

The frequency and pain of my Raynaud’s attacks worsened as I aged and moved into my toes as well. At this point, I can say I have a pretty extreme case of it. Between September through May, I can get multiple attacks a day as temperatures under 70 degrees will provoke one. I even have to pack and wear gloves on cooler summer evenings. Not only does short exposure to colder temperatures bring on the pain, but stress does as well. This makes a lot of very normal routine activities triggers for me. Things like digging through the freezer, holding a cold beverage, washing my hands in cold water (public bathrooms with motion-sensor faucets and no temperature control were the worst invention ever), getting wet or rained on, cold-weather sports, walking around my condo barefoot, or just a stressful workday.

I spoke to a few doctors and did a ton of reading about Raynaud’s online and unfortunately, there is not much that can be done about it. However, avoiding triggers (which is sometimes impossible) and being prepared in advance can make a huge difference. It took me years to figure it all out – and even still it’s a struggle – but I’ve learned a lot and have some great tips to share for anyone else dealing with this weird and annoying central nervous system disease.

Tip #1

Keep your core warm. It’s not just about covering up your hands and toes – if your core body temperature is warm, you are less likely to get an attack.

Tip #2

Use mittens over gloves, especially in harsher conditions, as your fingers generate more heat when they are not separated. Mittens should cover your wrists too. I’ve spent well over a thousand dollars on gloves and mittens (no joke) trying to find products that deliver on their promise of warmth and the following are my favorites. I will update this post if that changes.

For a daily cold-weather mitten, my favorite is Schechem Alpacas Boucle Lined Mittens. Many people resort to sheep’s wool for warmth, but Alpaca fiber is warmer and even more moisture wicking. It is also softer and itch-free! For a more snow sport-friendly mitten, I love Free the Powder products. The founder is actually a Raynaud’s sufferer himself so he knows what’s up.

Tip #3

Be prepared, even when you don’t think you need to be. For less harsh conditions (like spring, fall, or cool summer nights) keep a pair of lightweight touchscreen gloves on you. Glider Gloves are perfect and the company even sponsors the Raynaud’s Association.

Tip #4

Hand and toe warmers are your best friend. When absolutely nothing else works, these easy-to-carry packets will save the day. I keep a set in my purse for emergency use, but I ALWAYS pack them for outdoor adventures and walking commutes to and from work.

HotHands makes the best disposable packets that last up to 10 hours (for real). You can target the hands, feet, and body areas individually or purchase bulk sets to cover them all.

A great eco-friendly resuable option for shorter daily activities (like commuting to and from work) is the HXT Gel Packets which can be put inside any mitten or glove or even tucked in your bra, ladies :). Once microwaved for 30-40 seconds, they will provide a good hour of heat.

Just make sure you’re putting your hand and toe warmers on TOP of your hands and feet where your blood vessels and veins are. People naturally tend to put them under their palms or toes but this is wrong. The closer the heat is to your blood vessels the better they work. This is why built-in warmer pockets on mittens and gloves are always placed on the back of the hand.

Tip #5

Get to know good resources:

  • Raynaud’s Association – a national non-profit organization providing support & education to those living with Raynaud’s
  • The Warming Store – a huge catalog of tested and reviewed products that aim to solve cold-weather problems

If you follow all that ^^, you may actually learn how to love winter as much as I do :). Good luck out there!


    One Comment

  • Mike Deutmeyer December 5, 2020

    What do you mean crappy high school car???? You cried when you wrecked it.