When cold weather hits and temperatures plummet, even those in the best of health can find it unpleasant. But for some, it can leave them in absolute agony.
Alison Wright is among those for whom cold weather is more than just a minor annoyance.
The 39-year-old suffers from Raynaud’s, which is condition which stops the blood reaching her fingers when she is cold. Her fingers in fact turn bright white and become incredibly painful.
And for Alison, her condition is so bad that it does not even have to be freezing cold. Even the slightest drop in temperature can bring on an attack.
‘The first attack I had was in the summer six years ago’ says Alison of Pembroke Park, Portsmouth. ‘There was only a light breeze.
‘‘It doesn’t even have to be a big drop in temperature for me, even a very, very slight drop can do it.
‘Even if you are just in the supermarket and you go down the freezer aisle, that can bring on an attack. And I live in a town house and when I go down the bottom floor, where it’s colder, that can bring it on as well.’
Alison is one of 10 million people in the UK to suffer from the condition. But for each person, the severity can vary.
For some just one finger will turn white. For others it can be every finger. Some even find their toes are affected, and even their ears and nose.
An attack begins with the fingers turning white, then turning blue, and finally turning red and burning.
A sufferer can experience mild or extreme pain, numbness or tingling.
Alison says the pain can be excruciating.
‘The only thing I can compare it to is the feeling you get if you trap your fingers in a door,’ she says. ‘The pain can be so bad that it can bring you to the brink of tears.
‘But there’s nothing you can do about it, you just have to wait for it to die down.’
Sufferers can take medication to help control the condition.
But for many, daily tasks such as unlocking a door, getting food out of the fridge or opening a jar, can still be impossible.
Alison knows there are worse diseases and conditions she could have, but it is still a constant annoyance and something that is always at the forefront of her mind.
‘I have daily attacks at the moment, several times a day. Each one lasts about 15 minutes,’ says Alison, who works for the Naval Federation Families charity in Portsmouth and is also a pilates instructor.
‘You have to ride it out and there’s little you can do, other than to try to warm your hands up.
‘The best thing I find is to use hand-warmers, which are like little pouches which warm up and you can use over and over again. I put them in my pockets.
‘If I come home and feel cold I will get a cup of tea and just hold the mug. But the cup can’t be too hot.
‘The worst thing you can do is stick your hands on a radiator because that can cause more problems like chillblains.
‘I’m constantly aware of having to be prepared and I would never leave the house without a pair of gloves.’
She adds: ‘It is a nuisance and there are things I can’t do because of it. I couldn’t go skiing or sailing for instance, or do many outdoors activities.
‘But you just have to get on with it and manage it like with any health problem. There are many others who are far worse off.’
This month is Raynaud’s Awareness Month, organised by the Raynaud’s and Scleroderma Association (RSA).
Alison hopes that by telling her story she will make others aware that cold hands can be more serious than many think.
She also hopes to help encourage people who suffer from the symptoms to visit their GP to get help, as sometimes the condition can be a sign of an underlying health problem.
In fact Alison’s Raynaud’s was the symptom of another problem as after tests, she was diagnosed with a connective tissue disease called limited systematic sclerosis.
There are at least 12 conditions that cause chronic cold hands, including the auto-immune diseases lupus or scleroderma, which can cause heart and kidney failure, and breathing difficulties.
Scleroderma is a connective tissue disease that involves changes in the skin, blood vessels, muscles and internal organs.
Anne Mawdsley, chief executive and founder of the RSA, says: ‘Scleroderma is a very rare condition, affecting 8,000 of the 10 million people who have Raynaud’s, but because it’s so serious, early diagnosis is very important. This is why we want to make people more aware and to take Raynaud’s seriously.’
The awareness month campaign aims to not only highlight the condition but also the support on offer to sufferers of Raynaud’s.
The RSA can provide advice and tips on how to understand and cope with the condition and provide information on recommended heating aids and clothing.
For example, there are disposable, rechargeable, electrically-charged and microwaveable hand-warmers available.
A free Raynaud’s information pack is available by calling 0800 917 2494 or visiting the Raynaud’s and Scleroderma Association website at raynauds.org.uk.