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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Raynaud's and Winter's Chill

As uncomfortable as is the cold of the winter season, for someone suffering with Raynaud's Syndrome, cold hands and feet just may be a way of life. Anybody out in the cold too long knows the pain one feels in the hands and feet once returning to the warmth of the indoors again. Imagine going through that just by grocery shopping in the frozen foods section, or digging through the freezer looking for something for dinner.

A person may have Raynaud's Syndrome as the primary condition or it may be part of an underlying autoimmune condition such as Rheumatoid  Arthritis,  Scleroderma, or Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.  Raynaud's is a very annoying condition in which the constriction of the blood vessels in the affected areas is exaggerated. Usually this involves the fingers and toes but the nose, ear lobes and lips can also be affected.

Attacks are usually triggered by exposure to the cold or even emotional stress. A decrease in blood supply to the extremeties causes discoloration such as the skin turning white. Under normal exposure to cold the body slows the loss of heat to maintain core temperature. Blood vessels which control blood flow to the skin move blood from arteries near the surface to veins deep within. In a person  with Raynaud's phenomenon, this reaction goes overboard. The blood  vessels constrict tightly, starving the tissues of  blood,  however,  circulation  to the rest of the body is perfectly normal. These attacks are quite painful and can last for just a few minutes up to a few hours. When blood flow returns to normal, the white color turns to blue, then red, then back to a normal pinkish skin color.

Of course prevention is moving to a warm climate or by bundling up before going out in the cold weather, but even so, it isn't easy to avoid simple everyday things like air conditioning or holding a cold drink at a social gathering.

There is medication to dilate the blood vessels but usually the physician will first have a patient try lifestyle management. Besides being prepared for exposure to the cold, one must absolutely not be a smoker. We know how cigarettes compromise the circulation system and in a system already not working properly, to smoke is just asking for trouble. Emotional stress is another culprit which can trigger a flair.

A medication used to help increase blood flow to the extremities and heal tissue damage and ulcerated skin is Procardia, generic name being Nifedipine. It is taken at bedtime since it may cause dizziness. Grapefruit juice is to be avoided while taking this medication. Be aware that some people have an allergic reaction to calcium channel blockers. Red, itchy, scaly, dry and sometimes painful red splotches can appear on the face and perhaps any other part of the body. Topical steroids may be prescribed but be aware of the risk of potential damage to the skin when used on the face. Do not continue use of a steroidal cream if no results are seen within the time frame set by the physician. Once the Nifedipine is discontinued the problem areas probably won't get any worse but it may take months for the skin to heal and the red spots to fade. Believe it or not, Viagra had been found to be another option to help increase blood flow to the extremities. The side effects with Viagra could be dizziness and headaches.
Besides the pain involved, the fingertips and toes can become chronically tender to the touch and may drive one crazy with itch. This photograph of the toes shows what can happen over time to toes that are continuously irritated. The tips are sore, hard, peel and itch all at the same time. There may be periods of time where just wearing shoes is painful.

It is very important to take care of your toes. Should the wearing of shoes irritate the tips and ulcerated sores develop take measures to help these hard to heal areas. When circulation is compromised we need to pay attention before things get any worse.

To reduce the risk of infection, (this soak is great for wounds in general), Prepare an epsom salt and tea tree oil warm water soak to help reduce inflammation and oxidize the wound. The heat and salinity inhibit proliferation of bacteria. Epsom salts are crystals of hydrated magnesium sulphate.
 According to the Epsom Salt Council, epsom salt soaks can raise magnesium levels and improve blood circulation and skin integrity. Adequate circulation and oxygen saturation are necessary for wound healing. Epsom salt is not like table salt, it will not burn. Don't put salt directly on the wound.

Tea tree oil is known as the Australian wonder, renowned for its unbelievable antimicrobial qualities.  It can be found at most pharmacies and natural food stores. Look for it in 1 oz. amber glass dropper bottles. You want true therapeutic essential oil.

1. Fill a basin with warm water
2. Add a few tablespoons of Epsom salts and stir till dissolved
3. Add 10 drops of tea tree oil
4. Soak for about fifteen minutes
5. Let the area dry thoroughly
6. Repeat the soaking 2 -3 times a day
  • Ask your doctor if epsom salt soaks are appropriate for your wound. Do not use epsom salt soaks on an actively infected wound or a wound with nonviable tissue. 
Lavender Honey
 Once the toes are thoroughly dry, apply a dab of raw honey to the pad of a band-aid along with 1 drop of lavender essential oil. Cover the toe tips loosely with the band-aid. If using the lavender honey listed here than additional lavender essential oil isn't necessary.
Be sure to use raw honey, not the pasteurized type found in the grocery store.  Raw honey will help draw fluid away from your wound and suppress the growth of microorganisms. Part of what gives raw honey its antibacterial properties is an enzyme called glucose oxidase, which the worker bees excrete into the nectar. This enzyme releases low levels of hydrogen peroxide when the honey makes contact with your wound. Heated honey will destroy this perishable enzyme which is why you want to only use raw honey for this application.When applied to the skin, honey may serve as a barrier to moisture and keep skin from sticking to dressings.
Lavender has been called the 'mother of all essences'.  A very important property of lavender is that it stimulates the regeneration of damaged tissues.

Heat Holders proved to be a godsend.

Thick and chunky, chronically cold feet or tender, sore toe tips can find relief from cold floors. A tog rating of 2.34, these socks use heavy bulk yarn with extreme thermal qualities. Anyone with either diabetes or circulation problems should have a few pairs of these socks. Even if you find them too thick to be comfortable in your shoes, they are awesome for around the house or to wear with outdoor boots that have more room.
They also carry gloves with the same heat holding qualities to help protect those fingers from the bitter cold temperatures.

Like most of the symptoms associated with an autoimmune condition, these flairs come and go. It is imperative that the patient pay attention and take care of his/her body. Always carry a pair of gloves in your purse or glove compartment. These liner gloves are awesome to still be able to work while wearing them, and these make excellent liners underneath heavier gloves in the winter.

Liniments and massage oils can also be a comfort and offer relief for the numbness and tingling as blood flow returns to fingertips and toes.
Herbs rosemary and peppermint combine with aromatherapy for a blend which helps with circulation and pain relief.
Another option is the benefits of ginger root. Known as one of the "hot" herbs, ginger root helps to bring blood to the surface of the skin. By increasing circulation, ginger's warming qualities help to decrease muscle soreness and stiffness.

Warming Liniment Pain Relief
Ginger Root Warming Massage Oil

Other than the pain associated with the loss of blood flow during a flair, one has to understand that there may also be no feeling and clumsy numbness in the finger tips or toes. This can put one at a very real risk of injury. The fine tactile abilities of our hands and feet are usually not fully appreciated until one loses these functions. Be very careful when handling knives or power equipment while going through a Raynaud's flair. An injury can occur very quickly and without any initial pain until the surreal realization of what just happened.

Running warm water over cold fingers or toes helps increase blood flow but don't let the water get hot. The luxury of a warm bath on cold, winter nights can be therapeutic for both the mind and body. Add a cup of hot tea or hot chocolate and you're all set.

Bath oils, Salts, Scrubs