Autumn and winter in Minnesota can mean extremes of cold temperatures that can prove dangerous for those who work outside. You probably already know about the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia from extreme cold. However, you may not know that exposure to cold temperatures can also put you at risk for other conditions.
Cold temperatures can exacerbate work-related conditions such as carpal tunnel and Raynaud’s disease. Both affect the functioning of your hands, making it more difficult to do your job or function outside of work.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when tissues in your wrist swell and put pressure on the median nerve as it travels down your arm to supply your fingers. The pressure on the median nerve can cause weakness, sensory changes and sometimes pain.
While short exposures to cold temperatures can help relieve carpal tunnel symptoms by bringing down swelling, prolonged exposure can make them worse. Researchers are not sure why, but cold temperatures may slow down nerve responses, which can exacerbate symptoms.
Exposure to cold temperatures can cause the blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow. People with Raynaud’s disease experience extreme loss of circulation to the extremities with exposures to cold temperatures. If you have Raynaud’s, your fingers and toes may become numb and change color. Warmth causes the circulation to return to normal, and the skin of the fingers may tingle, throb and turn red.
Raynaud’s is a blood vessel disorder that sometimes occurs on its own. However, it may also be secondary to another condition, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.