Are you always the one wrapped up when everyone else is in a t-shirt? Do you often have icy hands and feet? Everyone reacts differently to the cold, and some people feel it more often than others.
Cold intolerance, also known as cold hypersensitivity, is when you’re exceptionally sensitive to cold temperatures. Sometimes, an intolerance to the cold may be a sign of underlying health condition or a side effect to medication.
What are the symptoms of feeling cold?
If you feel persistently cold, you might also notice:
- Icy hands and feet
- Persistent shivering
- Stiffness in your limbs
- Tingling or numbness in your hands, fingers, feet and toes
- Feeling the cold when others aren’t
What are the key causes of feeling constantly cold?
Anaemia is a condition where you have fewer red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout your body than normal. As a result, it’s common to feel cold hands and feet as well as symptoms of:
- Extreme tiredness
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling weak and lethargic
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Pale or yellowish skin
There are different types of anaemia, including iron-deficiency anaemia. If you suspect you’re anaemic, speak to a doctor who can do a blood test.
Treatment for anaemia is usually dependent on its cause. For example, if your anaemia is caused by low iron, you may need to take an iron supplement.
2. Extreme tiredness
You might notice that you feel cold after a bad night’s sleep. A lack of sleep can cause you to feel cold more frequently, this is because your internal temperature drops when you’re ready for sleep.
So, if you’re awake when your body needs sleep, you’re more likely to feel cold. This is particularly true for shift workers – who often feel cold between 3am and 6am when the natural body clock is at its lowest.
3. Underactive thyroid
The thyroid plays an important role in regulating body temperature, energy and metabolism. If your thyroid isn’t functioning well or you have an underactive thyroid, you may develop cold intolerance.
Other symptoms associated with an underactive thyroid include:
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Brittle nails and thin hair
- Feelings of depression
- Muscle aches and weakness
- Loss of sex drive
- Heavy or irregular periods for women
Speak to a doctor if you have symptoms and they may request a blood test to look at your thyroid function.
4. Raynaud’s syndrome
If your fingers turn white or a lighter colour when you’re cold or stressed, you might have a condition known as Raynaud’s syndrome. The condition mainly affects the fingers and toes, and causes blood vessels to narrow and constrict when you’re cold, depriving the tissues of oxygen. Other symptoms can include:
- Pins and needles
- Pain in or difficulty moving the affected area
Speak to a doctor if you suspect you have Raynaud’s and it’s affecting your daily life.
5. Being underweight
Body fat insulates your body and keeps you warm. The fat just under the skin – known as subcutaneous fat – acts as an insulator against the cold and helps preserve heat. Having a low body weight can increase your susceptibility to cold.
When you dramatically lower your intake of calories, your body’s metabolism will slow down to preserve energy, and this can also cause you to feel the cold more. This happens in people who have anorexia.
Similarly, it’s a good idea to speak to a doctor if you’ve experienced sudden weight loss.
6. Peripheral arterial disease
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a condition that restricts the blood supply to the legs. It’s caused by the build-up of fatty deposits on the walls of arteries, which is also known as atherosclerosis. It’s more common in people who smoke, have diabetes or have high cholesterol.
The reduced blood flow can increase your sensitivity to the cold. It’s more commonly felt in the feet, but can affect other parts of your body. Other symptoms might include:
- Numbness, weakness or pain in the legs after exercise
- Brittle toenails
- Hair loss on your legs
- Pale or blue skin on your legs
If you’re always feeling cold and have cramps or recurring pain in your legs, speak to a doctor.
7. Medication side effect
Certain medications can cause a sensitivity to the cold, particularly in your hands and feet. Research suggests certain medications can damage nerves or obstruct circulation and make us feel colder. Medications associated with making you feel colder include:
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Hormonal contraceptives
If you’re experiencing side effects from any medication, always report this to a doctor and they can help to find alternatives.
8. A virus or infection
Most of us know that the flu can give you temporary chills, and if you have a virus or infection you may feel shivery and cold and then hot.
Your body temperature is regulated by a part of your brain called the hypothalamus. When you’re unwell, your immune system releases chemicals called pyrogens, which raise the body’s temperature and help fight infection. Pyrogens can also trigger a reflex, which can lead to severe chills and shivering.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of an infection, a doctor can assess whether you need antibiotics or another treatment.
What can I do to feel warmer?
If you’re feeling constantly cold, it’s best to speak to a doctor to discover the root cause. However, there are some things you can do to help you feel warmer.
Being physically active can generate additional heat because it causes your muscles to contract and boosts your circulation.
It sounds obvious but wearing multiple layers will help to trap warm air, which acts as an insulator.
Get enough sleep
Not only is good sleep essential for your body and mind to function effectively, but you’re less likely to experience cold intolerance if you get enough rest.
Eat a balanced diet
Some nutritional deficiencies, like a lack of iron or vitamin B12, are linked with feeling the cold, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs.
Avoid using alcohol to keep warm
Alcohol can give you a false sense of warmth as it causes your blood vessels in the skin to expand, but it also draws heat away from your vital organs, making you feel colder.
When should I speak to a doctor?
If you’re feeling extra sensitive to the cold, speak to a healthcare professional as a first step. They can help determine if there’s an underlying cause.
You should also see a doctor if you’re feeling cold with the following symptoms:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme tiredness
- Numbness or tingling in your hands or feet
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Leg pains after exercise
- Low body weight and/or a concern about an eating disorder
This article has been medically reviewed by Livi GP Dr Roshaan Saloojee.