What is Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome?

Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS), commonly known as Vibration white finger (VWF), is injury sustained from the vibrations of machineries. The vibrations do small repeated damages to the small blood vessels in the hand. The damage slowly progresses and extends to the nerves and muscles of the arm. This disease is a common injury filed for insurance and compensation claims in countries such as UK and United States.

Etiology

It is now considered as an industrial disease because it commonly affects workers who handle equipment such as chain saws, drills and jackhammers. However, the cause of HAVS is not limited to big vibrating machineries. Dental assistants who handle tooth polishers or cleaning instruments may also develop the disease. Handling electric wood and leather cutters may also predispose one of developing the disease.

Manifestations

The first symptom of HAVS is the numbness and paresthesia. This is the feeling of a thousand small needles pricking the skin. This is usually felt when the weather is cold. Cool temperatures causes the blood vessels to constrict, thus restricting the blood flow to the affected area. This numbness further progresses through time and causes loss of manual dexterity. The numbing sensation brought about by the disease drives people not to use the affected area, which further causes muscle wasting.  Eventually, the patient’s grip will lose strength. Fine motor skills such as fastening buttons, handling and picking up small things like coins, nails and thread will also deteriorate. With the loss of normal function, the person affected by HAVS might be able to continue working and be prevented from enjoying his usual activities of living.

The color changes of the affected hand are also noticeable. During cold weather, the tips of the fingers turn white due poor blood circulation. After a while, the fingers turn bluish due to the gradual return of blood flow. Lastly, the fingers turn red as the circulation fully resumes. The changing of skin colors is accompanied uncomfortable tingling sensations.

Treatment

For people who already have the disease, they will be managed through nonpharmacologic methods such as wearing of gloves in cold weather. Also, keeping the whole body warm, not just the hands, promotes good circulation for the entire body. Regular exercise may also be advised to aid good blood flow. Lifestyle change such as avoiding cigarette smoking also helps in the treatment.

Prevention

  • Wear proper protective gear and equipment when handling the machinery.
  • Handle the machine loosely and in varying positions so that the vibrations will not be constantly concentrated in a single spot.
  • Know how to use the machine properly. Some workers tend to cling on the machine too tightly. In some countries, there are tools used to measure the vibration of a machine. This is used to compute the maximum duration a worker should handle the machinery without developing the disease.
  • Take breaks. Every 10 minutes, stop using the machine and exercise your extremity or take a short walk.
  • Keeping the hands warm promotes good circulation.
  • Avoid smoking as this also affects blood flow in the extremities.