Sensitivity to Cold: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Feeling cold is normal for someone standing outside in chilly weather without a coat. It is also common to feel more frigid in the winter when temperatures drop to colder-than-comfortable levels. However, constantly feeling unusually cold, even in warmer temperatures, may indicate that you have cold sensitivity. Sensitivity to cold, or cold intolerance, is an abnormal sensitivity to cold temperatures or a cold environment.

This article will discuss cold intolerance symptoms, causes, complications, and the risk factors associated with cold sensitivity.

Woman dealing with cold temperatures

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Sensitivity to Cold Symptoms

Cold sensitivity is an abnormal or exaggerated reaction to a cold environment that leads to discomfort. Sometimes, it may even lead people to avoid circumstances that may make them feel cold.

Sensitivity to cold symptoms may include:

  • Pain or burning sensations
  • Numbness
  • Skin color changes
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Swelling

Symptoms vary from person to person, and there is no universally accepted symptom-based definition of cold intolerance.

Causes of Sensitivity to Cold

Some causes of sensitivity to cold may include:

Very thin people often do not tolerate cold temperatures because of low body fat levels to keep them warm. On the other hand, being overweight is associated with a lower occurrence of cold sensitivity.

Normal body temperatures typically don't change much with aging. However, older age may make it harder for your body to regulate its temperature. Coldness may become more common because of decreased body fat, which can help us stay warm. If the coldness is bothersome, you may want to wear additional layers of clothing to keep warm.

What Medications Can Cause Sensitivity to Cold?

General anesthesia for surgery can cause people to experience shivering and chills after surgery. Blood pressure medications, such as beta-blockers, also have the possible side effect of cold hands and feet.

How to Treat Sensitivity to Cold

Treating sensitivity to cold symptoms starts with planning ahead. If you know you will be going somewhere cold, dress warmly with layers. You may also want to wear a hat, gloves, a scarf, and warmer socks. You can always remove items if you don't need them.

Additional ways to stay warm include:

  • Keep the heat in your home by closing doors and blocking drafts
  • Keep the heat on
  • Eat and drink warm foods
  • Exercise (if it is OK with your healthcare provider)
  • Avoid cold environments when possible

Complications and Risk Factors Associated With Sensitivity to Cold

One study reported that people with specific types of illness and injuries reported a higher incidence of reporting cold intolerance, which includes:

  • Rheumatic diseases
  • Nerve injuries
  • Migraines
  • Vascular diseases

Are There Tests to Diagnose Sensitivity to Cold?

Contact your healthcare provider if cold sensitivity is bothering you. Although there is no one specific test to diagnose sensitivity to cold, your provider will ask questions and may order blood tests to identify cold sensitivity and see if there may be another underlying medical problem.

Diagnostic blood tests your healthcare provider needs to help provide a diagnosis include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Serum Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)
  • Thyroid hormone levels

Your healthcare provider will also likely collect a detailed medical history and perform a physical examination. They may also ask you some of the following questions:

  • Have you always been sensitive to cold, or did this develop recently?
  • Does it feel like it is getting worse?
  • Do you feel cold when others around you are not?

Your provider may also inquire and ask questions about your past medical history, such as:

  • Describe your diet.
  • How is your general health?
  • What are your height and weight?
  • Do you have any other symptoms besides being cold?

When to See A Healthcare Provider

If you experience sensitivity to coldness with any of the following symptoms, contact your healthcare provider:

  • Temperature above 104 degrees Fahrenheit or below 95 degrees Fahrenheit in an adult or a child who is older than 3
  • Chest pain
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing

Summary

Sensitivity to cold, or cold intolerance, is an abnormal sensitivity to cold temperatures or a cold environment. Sensitivity to cold symptoms may include pain, burning sensations, numbness, stiffness, weakness, swelling, and skin color changes.

Some causes of sensitivity to cold may include hypothyroidism, anemia, anorexia, blood vessel problems, general poor health, or another underlying medical condition. Very thin people often do not tolerate cold temperatures because of low body fat levels to keep them warm. Treatment for cold intolerance involves treating the underlying condition that is causing it.

A Word From Verywell

Feeling cold sometimes, especially in cold environments, is a normal sensation. However, talk to your healthcare provider if you feel colder than usual or constantly feel chillier than the people around you. They may want to ensure that there isn't another underlying condition causing your cold sensitivity. In the meantime, take care of yourself by wearing warmer garments such as extra layers, gloves, and hats, especially when you know you are heading out into the cold.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes increased sensitivity to cold?

    There are many possible causes of sensitivity to cold, including hypothyroidism, anemia, a chronic illness, anorexia nervosa, blood vessel problems, older age, general poor health, and hypothalamus problems. Very thin people also often do not tolerate cold temperatures because of low body fat levels to keep them warm.


  • Is sensitivity to cold a symptom of MS?

    Some people with MS notice that spasticity symptoms become worse in cold weather. If you have MS and are sensitive to temperatures, your healthcare provider may recommend that you try to avoid extremes of either hot or cold temperatures.

  • How do I stop being so sensitive to cold?

    Managing an underlying medical condition causing cold sensitivity helps some people stop being as cold intolerant. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if this is possible for you. However, the best approach in many cases may be planning ways to stay warm in advance. If you know you will be going somewhere cold, dress warmly with layers. You may also want to wear a hat, gloves, a scarf, and warmer socks. You can always remove items if you don't need them.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Medline Plus. Cold intolerance.

  2. Stjernbrandt A, Carlsson D, Pettersson H. et al. Cold sensitivity and associated factors: a nested case–control study performed in Northern SwedenInt Arch Occup Environ Health 91, 785–797 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00420-018-1327-2

  3. Medline Plus, Aging changes in vital signs.

  4. National Health Service. General anaesthesia.

  5. National Health Service. Beta blockers.

  6. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Heat & temperature sensitivity.

By Sarah Jividen, RN
Sarah Jividen, RN, BSN, is a freelance healthcare journalist and content marketing writer at Health Writing Solutions, LLC. She has over a decade of direct patient care experience working as a registered nurse specializing in neurotrauma, stroke, and the emergency room.