Chilblains are incredibly painful for something so small – they mostly occur on your toes but they can also affect other parts of your feet as well as fingers and hands.

What Causes Chilblains?

Generally red and blotchy, chilblains are itchy and painful areas, they may be swollen and in severe cases cracks develop in the skin and they can become infected or ulcerated.

They are caused by a reaction to cold conditions.  When your feet become cold the blood vessels close to the skin narrow, if the skin is then exposed to heat the blood vessels widen.  If this happens too quickly in the small blood vessels near the skin they can’t always cope with the increased flow and blood leaks into the tissue which cases the swelling and itching. Areas of the feet that are under pressure such as toes squeezed into tight shoes or corns are especially vulnerable.

Those at especially high risk include those with:-

  • poor circulation
  • a family history of chilblains
  • regular exposure to cold, damp or draughty conditions
  • a poor diet or low body weight
  • Physical conditions that affect circulation such as Lupus, Reynauds or Diabetes

Smokers are also at higher risk.

The Symptoms Of Chilblains

Chilblains are most common on the feet, but can occur on hands and even the ears or nose.  Symptoms include:-

  • burning skin
  • red, blue or white swollen areas
  • severe itching
  • dry skin, leading to splits and cracks
  • infections
  • in severe cases ulceration can occur

It is most important not to scratch chilblains as the skin can break easily and become infected.

Preventing Chilblains

There are lots of things you can do to help prevent chilblains if you are vulnerable to them. These include:-

  • Keep out of the cold as much as possible
  • Look after your feet
  • Keep active to help  improve your circulation
  • If you get cold,  warm up gradually
  • Stop smoking
  • Wear warm clothes, especially on your hands and feet, bed socks at night if you get cold feet in bed
  • Wear well fitting shoes and avoid pressure spots on your feet
  • Moisturise your feet to help prevent skin cracking
  • Make sure your shoes are dry
  • Warm your hands and feet before going out into the cold
  • Increase circulation by using menthol or eucalyptus based rubs
  • See a podiatrist for regular professional treatments.

Treating Chilblains

  • Do not scratch as this will damage the skin
  • Use calamine lotion or witch hazel to soothe the itching.
  • Keep the affected area warm and at an even temperature
  • Keep pressure off the chilblains
  • Gentle exercise to improve circulation to your feet.
  • Use a cream to soften and protect the skin
  • If the chilblains persist seek help from your Doctor or Podiatrist

When To Seek Medical Advice

In severe cases there is a small risk of further complication such as:-

  • infection from blistered or scratched skin
  • ulcers forming on the skin
  • permanent discolouration of the skin
  • scarring of the skin

You should only need to seek professional help if you have severe recurring chilblains, if they don’t improve in a few days or if there are signs of infection.

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