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DrSugar Answers: White Fingers and Raynaud's Phenomenon

DrSugar Answers: White Fingers and Raynaud's Phenomenon

DrSugar is in the house and he's answering your questions.

Dear Dr. Sugar,
Have you heard of Raynaud’s phenomenon? I have been dealing with this "phenomenon" turning my toes and fingers white and cold when skiing. Let me just say the sensation is not phenomenal. I am wondering if there is anything I can do to help prevent it from happening and if I am causing any permanent damage to my skin? Thanks,
— Cold Toes, Warm Heart

To hear what DrSugar has to say about this condition,


Although the name sounds somewhat exotic, Raynaud’s phenomenon is a very common disorder that results in blood vessel spasms causing white and painful fingers and toes when exposed to the cold. If your fingers and toes are particularly sensitive, Raynaud’s can be very disabling in cold environments. The cause of Raynaud’s is unknown, but sometimes it is associated with other diseases such as lupus or thyroid disorders. If Raynaud’s is not treated promptly, it can result in damage to skin due to lack of blood supply; however, this is fairly rare. This condition commonly affects women 20 to 50 years of age, and often runs in families. Smoking and stress are known to worsen the symptoms of Raynaud’s. So if you smoke, this is yet one more reason to quit.

The easiest and most effective way to prevent Raynaud’s is to keep your hands and feet extra warm. Unfortunately, this simple measure can be quite challenging during prolonged exposure to cold like skiing. One way to prevent the blood vessel spasms in the fingers while out in the cold for prolonged periods of time is to wear mittens instead of gloves. Mittens tend to be warmer because your fingers get heat from each other. I would keep a few hand warmers around so you can put them in the mittens to warm your fingers even more. Keeping toes warm can be a little trickier, but extra thick socks and foot warmers can help. If the ski lodge has boot warmers, take the time to heat the interior of your boots before heading to the ski lift. If none of these tricks help, there are medications that can help prevent skin damage or help heal existing skin ulcers. These prescription medications include calcium channel blockers which prevent vessel spasms and nitroglycerin creams that relax blood vessels. It's also important to remember that if you have other symptoms such as joint pains, rashes, or fatigue, you may have another serious disease that requires evaluation by a doctor.

If you have a question for DrSugar, send me a private message here, and I will forward it to the good doctor.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

Join The Conversation
agrajas agrajas 8 years
I thought I was just being a drama queen also, and was relieved when I found out that it was a condition. My toes get it really badly - even when it's not too cold outside. I have grown to love UGGS for this reason. They keep my toes soooo warm and toastly. Similarly, shearling mittens work wonders for my fingers!
Beauty Beauty 8 years
I have it, too. My hands and nose are always cold unless it's, like, 75 degrees outside or warmer. I was so excited when my doctor told me that it was Raynaud's because I figured we could do something about it. Her suggestion to wear gloves bummed me out. Guess I'm just fated to have cold fingers.
aimeeb aimeeb 8 years
This totally happened to me a few weeks back. My thumb was stark white and hurt so bad. It took ages to try and warm it up and get some color and feeling back into it. Scared the crap out of me...
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 8 years
Aww, every other run I headed to the lodge to run my hands under warm water. It really works, but I think it makes you seem like a bit of a drama queen. That is until you show your friends your fingers that are so white they are nearly green and they freak out. I don't ski anymore, and limit my time outside in cold weather, so I don't have this problem so much anymore, but I can see how that isn't a fun choice. Berlin- I can't believe yours is so bad you have problems in Target! I used to get it in the fall when I soccer outside, even though the weather wasn't very cold, but yours sounds extreme!
nancita nancita 8 years
I also have this problem. I find that I can avoid it as long as I don't let my hands and feet get too cold to begin with. This means often wearing gloves and/or thick socks when it seems somewhat silly.
Berlin Berlin 8 years
I have Reynaud's as well! I get it particularly badly when I'm shopping in fingers and toes turn completely white, then go numb and burn and I usually cannot shop in there for long. And I like going there too lol. And I'm not sure about the rest of you that have it, but for me, running them under hot water does little to help. Worse part is that it lasts up to 2 hours sometimes!
CBirck CBirck 8 years
I have Raynaud's too. Except it effects me all the time even in the summer. It's pretty easy to deal with. The warm water does help a lot.
aimeeb aimeeb 8 years
I had no clue.
tsp tsp 8 years
hmmm. interesting. my last 2 sunday morning bike rides i got home and my fingers were numb-ish and white. it was pretty cold (high 30's) but i was wearing gloves and still had problems. my toes were bad too, but not quite AS bad (thanks smartwool!) the last ride i was actually a little freaked out because even and hour later the tips of my fingers felt and looked funny. i wonder if that is raynauds? never heard of it. i do know my mom has terrible circulation...her hands actually turn blue when she handles cold foods, even just prepping dinner. it's kind of weird. i know she's talked to her doctor about it, and i always attributed it to the effects of years of smoking.
alethia037 alethia037 8 years
I have Raynaud's too, and I was really excited to see this post... it is more common than people would think! The warm water trick definitely works... I use it all the time!
deanna024 deanna024 8 years
I have Reynaud's and am happy to see this addressed. It's very common -- when I get on the subject with someone, I often have them say, oh, the same thing happens to me! One tip my doctor told me is to run your hands/feet under warm water to warm them up. However, be absolutely certain that you test this with another part of your skin (or have someone else test it) that it's not too hot! Because when your hands/feet are white, they are extra sensitive. You do not want to burn your skin.
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