The Best Home Care for Cold Feet and Hands

Humans are adapted to warm climates. We strive to stay warm, if at all possible. When we cool off or are exposed to a cold environment, our bodies naturally defend our core temperature by moving vital blood flow away from our extremities. That is why our hands, feet, ears, and nose becomes cold first. In fact, ice can form in the areas with the least circulation such as the fingertips or tip of the nose and we can be at risk for frostbite.

Key takeaways:
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    Cold exposure can lead to frostbite and frostnip which should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.
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    Prevention of cold feet and hands can be performed with socks and mittens or gloves.
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    Avoidance of tight clothing and exposure to moisture and wind should be encouraged before being exposed to outside cold.
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    Rewarming with warm water baths should be done carefully if frostbite or frostnip are suspected.
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    Elevation of affected areas and aspirin or ibuprofen is recommended after thawing.

We can also suffer from nonfreezing cold injuries caused by the cooling of the skin. If we are immersed in water, our blood vessels contract and damage can result in our nerves even if the wet conditions are slightly above freezing.

Pernio or chilblains is an inflammatory condition that can result from exposure to cold, damp conditions. It can be identified as the skin turning reddish blue and blisters or ulceration can form. Pernio causes an itchy rash that can feel like it is burning. Fortunately, it is rare.

There are other conditions that may dispose people to cold feet and hands such as Reynaud’s phenomenon, which is an abnormal narrowing of the blood vessels. Another is the formation of cold hives or raised red bumps. Any of these conditions should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

What is the difference between frostbite and frostnip?

Frostbite can permanently damage tissue while frostnip does not. Frostnip is more common and more easily treated. Frostnip is another term for superficial frostbite.

Frostnip occurs when the cold skin has a prickling sensation and numbness. The skin can turn red, blue, white, or even purple. It can also cause unsteadiness and joint or muscle stiffness.

Frostnip areas are usually small, and the skin does not get hard. When an area of the body has frostnip or frostbite, it can become painful as it is rewarmed. The pain can last for a few days and blisters may form.

What are the best home remedies for cold feet and hands?

The best home remedies for preventing the cold are to wear adequate clothing when exposed to winter temperatures. The clothing or shoes should also be waterproof to avoid moisture contact with the skin. Avoiding wind is also important, if possible.

Sleeping with extra clothes or blankets can result in raising your core body temperature. Wearing socks warms your feet, improves the blood flow to your feet, and results in your heart, lungs, and muscles working at their best efficiency.

Some studies show that wearing socks at night can help people get to sleep faster with fewer wakings. The downside to wearing socks while sleeping is that it may increase the risk of poor hygiene if the socks are not clean, or if the person has a problem with the athlete’s foot or another malady.

Using hand-warmers inside mittens is particularly helpful if exposure to cold temperatures will be prolonged, such as participating in activities like skiing, sledding, or snowmobiling. Some snowmobiles have warmers both on the steering and by the feet.

It is important to avoid tight-fitting clothing. Mittens promote more warmth than gloves. It is not a good idea to wear extra pairs of socks if they make the boots or shoes fit too tightly. This is a good tip when dressing children, so their feet stay warm.

Keeping dry is paramount. This is especially true for children who love to play in the snow and inevitably get their clothes and mittens or gloves wet. Remember to take off wet clothes as soon as possible to avoid contact with the skin with moisture.

If you are going to be exposed to cold weather, it is helpful to maintain physical activity with adequate food intake. Hot beverages will help keep you warm as well.

What is the best home care if frostbite or frostnip is a concern?

First, there should be a concern about hypothermia, where the body temperature has fallen below normal temperature. If there is a concern about hypothermia, frostbite, or frostnip, head to the nearest hospital emergency room instead of calling your doctor. This is especially true if there are areas of the body that have been exposed to cold and are painful.

Home care should be done according to the advice of a doctor. Rewarming should be done with caution. In some cases, this may be necessary without seeing a doctor because of impassable roads or continued bad weather.

Rewarming should be done with water 99 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Be careful not to let the affected body part touch the bottom of the bathtub or sink. Immersion in a hot tub of water may be best in some cases, to make sure the person’s core body temperature is raised as well.

If there is a suspicion of frostnip, warming should be done in the shower or sink. Use a warm washcloth on the nose and ears.

The recommendation is to only rewarm the area if it appears to be frostnip and not frostbite. A good rule of thumb is that the skin is still flexible, and the affected area is small and superficial. Again, evaluation in the emergency room for any possible frostbite is preferred, if possible.

When warming an affected area, replace the warm water frequently to keep the temperature consistent. This usually takes about 30 to 45 minutes.

Avoid using of warming devices such as heating pads, or electric blankets, or placing the affected area under running warm water because of the risk of burning.

Rewarming is successful when the affected area is thawed and regains a pink color, indicating that blood flow is improved.

Using aspirin or ibuprofen is a good option to prevent further injury to the area from substances that are naturally released from damaged tissues.

Immersion injuries are treated like frostbite, but there is no need for initial thawing in warm water.

Elevation of the affected area is recommended. Avoid re-exposure to the cold.

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