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Hand-arm vibration syndrome, also known as HAVS, is usually caused by working with vibrating tools over a long period of time. It causes a change in sensory perception, which leads to permanent numbness of fingers, muscle weakness and occasionally white finger (a former name for the condition). It’s related to, but not the same as, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).

What causes HAVS?


What is HAVS?


Hand-arm vibration syndrome, also known as HAVS,  is usually caused by working with vibrating tools over a long period of time. This causes a change in the sensory perception, which can lead to permanent numbness of fingers, muscle weakness and occasionally white finger (a former name for the condition). It's related to but it's not the same as, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)


 


Causes of HAVS


HAVS is caused by repeated or extended use of vibrating tools. This includes tools such as power drills, chainsaws, pneumatic drills and other machinery that vibrates. As a result, it is a common workplace injury or condition for those who have used these tools over a long period of time and it's particularly prominent in the construction, engineering, quarrying, agriculture, and auto-repair industries.

Small but repeated damaged to nerve endings and blood vessels in the fingers cause them to lose their function over time. It's estimated that around one in ten people who use vibrating tools regularly at work suffer from the condition. However, research also shows that the number of new cases each year are decreasing, potentially due to the prevalence of PPE.



 

HAVS symptoms


Tingling fingers:


One of the first noticeable signs of HAVS is a tingling in the fingers or hands. This tingling may come and go and you may notice if more during the night or after using vibrating machinery.


Numbness:


Another symptom is a sense of numbness, similiar to a dead leg, but located in the hands and fingers. This numbness can be uncomfortable and it can cause disturbed sleep. Similar to tingling fingers, the effects may come and go but the numbless is likely to become more frequent as HAVS develops.


Loss of strength:


Another early warning sign is a loss of strength in the hands. This is often spotted by your grip becoming weaker and you may struggle to pick things up or hold onto items.


 White finger:


White finger is a symptom whereby the tips of your fingers begin to turn white or pale and this can affect one or more of your fingers. This symptom is more likely to occur during cold and wet conditions and you will notice the tips (or more) of your fingers going white or becoming very pale. On recovery, the affected finger(s) will then begin to turn red and become very painful.



 

How do symptoms progess?


If you recognise any of these symptoms, it's important you take action immediately. If you continue to use high-vibration tools then your symptoms with likely get more serious and it's important to remember that, once it begins to get worse, the symptoms will then stay worse.

A lot of people who suffer from HAVS are forced to not work or to change their jobs as they are unable to perform tasks the way they were able to before. It's also important to remember that it's not just your work that will be affected by this, but it can have a big impact in your hobbies, homelife and it can also affect the quality of your sleep.

If the symptoms are not recognised and treated in time, it can lead to more developed symptoms:


Permanent numbness:


In the early stages, numbness will come and go but as HAVS develops the numbness will become permanent and you won't be able to feel things in your hands and fingers at all. This will affect your ability to hold on to things and can also impact your ability to press buttons and complete simple tasks.


Loss of grip:


Along with permanent numbness you will also lose your grip as it continues to get weaker. This makes jobs such as picking up smaller objects like nails and screws more difficult, partially due to the numbness, but also due to the loss of strength in your hands.


Advanced vibration white finger:


The white finger affects mentioned above will happen more frequently and it will begin to affect more of your fingers.



 

How is HAVS diagnosed?


HAVS prevention


HAVS is a preventable condition but you need to spot it early so you can stop the damage and prevent your hands and fingers from getting worse.

For workers who use vibrating tools as part of their job, there are some steps to take before suffering any of the symptoms in order to reduce your chances of developing the condition. Try to hold tools loosely and in varying positions, and ensure they are well maintained. The more work the tool does, the less you have to use your own force. It’s also essential to ensure you have been properly trained in their correct use.

Wearing proper PPE anti-vibration gloves if you work in an environment where HAVS could be an issue is also important. These gloves reduce the effects that vibrating machinery have on your body, preventing a lot of the worst symptoms.

Take regular breaks of at least ten minutes away from the tool, as short bursts are better than extended periods. Also try to keep warm at work, as the cold can exacerbate the condition. As always, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol, as this will help to reduce your risks of developing the condition.

 


 

HAVS treatment


If you have already developed symptoms and are exhibiting signs of HAVS, then you need to try and stop using the tools altogether. Mild symptoms can be reversed if you eliminate the cause. However, if you continue to use vibrating machinery, there is little you can do to prevent the symptoms worsening over time.

Limit drinking alcohol and stop smoking, as this will aid recovery from the symptoms. Taking regular exercise will also help. It’s also important to keep the affected areas warm at all times, so wear a decent pair of gloves when exposed to cold conditions.

Keeping the rest of the body warm with quality workwear, this will also help to reverse the effects of the symptoms. Avoid touching cold objects with bare hands and soak hands in warm water when symptoms flare up.

There is some medication that can be taken to combat the effects of HAVS but prevention and early recognition of the symptoms is always the better option.



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