Tips for Coping with Neuropathy in Cold Weather
Neuropathy, also called peripheral neuropathy, is a term that describes the type of pain and discomfort caused by nerve damage. It is typically characterized by a feeling of weakness, numbness, tingling, or burning in the hands and feet.
Neuropathy can be a common side effect of certain chemotherapy treatments, and can develop after surgery (especially for breast or lung cancer). Often, nerve damage is temporary; it will usually get better, but it can take time.
Cold weather poses special challenges for people affected by neuropathy. Prolonged exposure to the cold causes the body to slow blood circulation to the hands and feet in an effort to preserve the body’s core temperature. The reduced blood flow can intensify neuropathy symptoms and potentially cause further damage to already affected peripheral nerves. This is of special concern to those who experience their neuropathy pain as a numbness or tingling sensation. Their ability to measure the effects of the cold is compromised since they already experience those physical warning signals that would otherwise indicate a need to get to warmer conditions.
Tips to lessen the pain and lower your risk of further nerve damage:
- Wear warm, dry clothing in cold weather.
- Protect your hands and feet by wearing thick socks, thick mittens or gloves.
- Take intermittent breaks from the cold to reduce your exposure to extreme temperatures.
- Limit or avoid caffeine before an outing as it can temporarily cause blood vessels to narrow.
- Do not smoke as cigarette smoke can slow circulation.
- Limit alcohol use since excessive consumption can lead to vitamin deficiency which can, in turn, damage peripheral nerves.
- Incorporate exercise into your routine to improve overall circulation.
- Explore comfort measures like massage or use of flexible splints for support.
This information is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have concerns that you or a loved may be experiencing symptoms of neuropathy, be sure to discuss the issue with your health care team as there are treatments available to help control the symptoms. A typical treatment regimen may include over-the-counter or prescription medications. Your doctors can work with you to find the best treatment or combination of treatments to manage your discomfort.
For more information about neuropathy, please view all of CancerCare’s neuropathy resources. You can also find information through The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy.