Raynaud's and open water swimming

Date: Tue 3rd January 2017

Raynaud's attacks, usually triggered by the cold causing a lack of blood flow to the extremities, are often mild and manageable; however diving into cold water may cause problems.

In people who have Raynaud's, the small blood vessels in the extremities are over-sensitive to changes in temperature, stress or anxiety. This causes a Raynaud's attack where the fingers sometimes change colour, but not always, from white, to blue, to red. An attack can be a very uncomfortable, possibly painful, process.

Raynaud's symptoms generally affect the fingers and toes, but all extremities can be involved, including the ears, nose, lips, tongue and nipples.

With Raynaud's prevention is better than cure and so it is important to always try to keep the body temperature stable. In open water this can be tricky and in competitive swimming the lack of gloves can mean that hands are exposed to extremes in temperature.

Some people have severe Raynaud's where the symptoms of an attack can last several hours and attacks are frequent. If this is the case there are drug treatments available, which open up the blood vessels to try and ensure blood flow to the extremities (fingers, toes, nose Etc.). Speaking with a GP to gain a formal diagnosis and explore these options is the first step.

To help manage Raynaud's during open water swims try to warm up as quickly as possible by using our 10 top tips (below). Do avoid warming your body over extreme heat such as fires or by putting hands on heaters as this may cause chilblains.

What are chilblains

Chilblains affect 1 in 10 people in the UK. Chilblains are the result of an abnormal reaction to the cold. They are common in the UK because damp, cold weather is usual in the winter. Some people develop chilblains every winter that last for several months. When the skin is cold, blood vessels near its surface get narrower. If the skin is then exposed to heat, the blood vessels become wider. If this happens too quickly, blood vessels near the surface of the skin can't always handle the increased blood flow. This can cause blood to leak into the surrounding tissue, which may cause the swelling and itchiness associated with chilblains.

If your hands and feet get very cold do not put them on the nearest radiator or directly in front of the gas fire - always reheat them slowly, as too much heat too quickly can cause damage and considerable pain. Dip your hands and feet into a bowl of warm but not hot water and alternate with cold water, until they come back to life, then dry thoroughly. Remove any damp clothes and have a hot drink and warm bath. Warm your wrists by rubbing them together as this will stimulate the circulation to your hands.

10 Top Tips On Keeping Warm When Open Water Swimming

1. Ensure your circulation is at its optimum by breathing and stretching before your swim.

2. Take your wetsuit off as soon as you get out of the water and dry off quickly.

3. Take a thermos with a hot drink for after the swim.

4. Have lots of layers of clothes to put on when you are finished.

5. Try swimming gloves and booties.

6. Try a thermal swimming cap.

7. Use a dry suit under your wetsuit for double warmth but layers can slow you down.

8. Secure heat packs to the most vulnerable areas of your body and wear under your suit.

9. Have some hot packs ready to crack to put in your gloves and socks once dressed.

10. Use silver socks and gloves before and after your swim for heat direction back into your skin and also consider wrapping silver foil around your body to help with rewarming.