Sensitivity to temperature change?
October 17, 2011 10:18 PM   Subscribe

Why do my hands swell when going from cool to warm temperature?

More importantly, is it anything to be concerned about?

Today it happened when I was working in a chilly office.. clicking away on the mouse with my right hand. No problems till I left and blasted the heat in my car. My right hand/fingers became extremely swollen, warm to touch, pink/red, and itchy by the time I got home 10 minutes later. Here's a picture of my normal left hand and my messed up right hand: Most of the swelling went down in a couple hours. 10 hours later it's still slightly swollen.

This has happened before to my toes when taking a shower after my feet were kind of cold. It's happened to my cheeks, ears, and belly after playing a hockey game and entering my warm car. It's happened to my legs when going for a run in warm weather. It's happened to my lip when coming inside from a cold, rainy day. This has been going on for maybe 10 years; I'm 26.

I've read about Raynaud's and it doesn't seem to fit. My extremities don't feel that cold they certainly don't turn blue. The problem happens with the temp change. Also, an allergy doesn't make any sense to me.

I assume it's a sensitivity to quick temperature change from cold to warm. Does anyone have any insight about this?
posted by sallyseashore to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I had similar symptoms for years, although for me it happened when I got cold rather than warmed up. I also got hives on my legs and arms due to the cold, and experienced itchiness and swelling on my face and elsewhere.

I'm 27, and it is much less noticeable than it was when I was younger. I asked a doctor about it 10 years or so ago, and he said it was probably cold urticaria (a histamine response to cold), and wasn't too concerned about it. A quick glance at that Wikipedia article shows there is a related allergy to heat.
posted by also at 10:51 PM on October 17, 2011

This sounds like chilblains, though wikipedia paints a more extreme picture of what it typically is. It's generally your body having an exagerrated response to the cold, opening up all your capilliaries, resulting in the area getting localised tissue swelling. I first started getting it after going on holiday to a hot country for a few months, then coming back to the cold of Europe, where apparently my entire circulatory system had forgotten how to deal with cold weather. Mine tends to start before I even transition from a cold to a hot environment. My hands swell up so I can't even bend the fingers, and I get this horribly tingly itchy feeling with it. The best treatment I found was simply to make sure the affected areas never got too cold. Better gloves and better shoes/slippers. I think I was born in the wrong climate :P
posted by Elfasi at 1:03 AM on October 18, 2011

I was acquainted with someone who said she was allergic to temperature changes, and your symptoms sound like hers. A cursory search of Wikipedia reveals cholinergic urticaria. Key quotes:

Some people only have symptoms during the winter months where their body temperature rises when it is unacclimatized to heat.

The age of onset is anywhere from 10-30 and the condition may occur spontaneously in people with no history of the condition.
posted by NMcCoy at 4:31 AM on October 18, 2011

Like others, I think this sounds like urticaria, which I had as a kid, and it occasionally pops up in my adulthood. If the symptoms stay merely annoying, there's nothing to worry about, but like other allergic reactions, it can be dangerous.

For example, my reaction was to cold, and I once passed out on the bank of a lake AFTER getting out, thankfully. Similarly, a friend of mine can't spend much time outside in winter because if her nose and throat get too cold, when she goes into a warm space, those areas are what swells.

If you have major swelling or it happens in areas where a little swelling goes a long way, an epi pen may be called for.
posted by rosa at 5:48 AM on October 18, 2011

And now I have a name for the weird red bumps I sometimes get on the backs of my hands and forearms going from cold to warm. Cholinergic urticaria.

I've also had symptoms similar to yours, or similar to yours reducing to the tiny welts within 10-30 minutes. Never had the swelling last anywhere near 10 hours though. Like rosa said above, any allergic reaction could be potentially dangerous. Since it's been going on for a decade though, it may just be annoying. You might want to see an allergist, especially if it worsens.
posted by mrgoat at 8:07 AM on October 18, 2011

This kind of thing happens to me as well. The urticaria descriptions seem right to me. I get really blotchy after exercise and after particularly long/warm showers, and I do, at times, have some swelling in my hands/extremities when I switch from cold to warm temperatures. It's not as dramatic as your picture shows but it causes a dull kind of pain.

I'd mention it to your doctor next time you go in but wouldn't be worried unless it gets worse or more frequent.
posted by sarae at 11:40 AM on October 18, 2011

I have a the same thing happen, though oddly only when I have my hands in cold rainwater. I find I don't have it as much if I wear rubber gloves when dealing with water in winter. Also, perhaps warming your hands to body heat using your body heat would help? Like they do with suspected frostbite, keep your hands under your armpits to allow them to acclimatise to the raised temperature. I've never tried this, but I figure it might help.
posted by Solomon at 11:52 AM on October 18, 2011

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