What are Chilblains?
Chilblains affect the toes but can also affect the fingers, ears and nose. They appear on the skin as small, itchy swellings which occur from exposure to cold temperatures and damp environments.
The medical term for Chilblains is Pernio, which is an inflammatory skin disorder. They can be painful but rarely cause any permanent damage. They will normally heal within a couple of weeks if further exposure to the cold is avoided.
Symptoms of Chilblains
- A burning sensation in the hands and feet
- Blue, red or white swollen patches on the skin
- Extreme sense of wanting to scratch the area
- Dry skin – leading to cracks and wounds
What causes it?
The majority of sufferers develop Chilblains in the winter due to the low temperatures. They are especially common in the Ireland because of damp and cold weather conditions during the winter months.
Chilblains are more common in women and also in people who suffer from hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) and low body mass index.
The low temperatures cause a restriction of a small branch of artery leading to the capillaries which supply blood to the skin. When the skin is warmed quickly, this can lead to blistering, redness and itchy lesions. It is best to avoid going straight to a heater or a hot water bottle – warm up your feet gradually!
If you suffer from poor circulation or if you work in an environment where you are regularly exposed to cold and damp conditions you may be more likely to develop Chilblains.
In the majority of cases, symptoms will resolve in 1-3 weeks. If symptoms persist and become chronic, it may indicate underlying conditions such as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Sarcoidosis or Raynaud’s Phenomenon.
What will happen if I leave it?
Chilblains usually don’t require any treatment as the symptoms often get better on their own after a week or two.
It is common for Chilblains to reoccur or become severe which puts you at risk of developing further problems. If the itchy area of the skin becomes broken, it is common for infections to occurs. In the most severe cases, ulcers may develop on the skin which can cause pain when moving
To avoid complications such as these it is advisable not to directly overheat the area and to try to refrain from itching or scratching the skin.
What can help?
If you do suffer from Chilblains you can reduce your risk of developing them by limiting your exposure to cold environments.
If your feet do get cold,
- Warm them up gradually as heating them too quickly is one of the main causes of Chilblains.
- Wear 100% cotton socks or Bamboo socks have been proving beneficial as they reduce bacteria and absorb moisture from the skin- keeping your feet drier.
- Do not scratch the skin.
- Regulating moisturising your feet and massaging them to keep the soft and warn and preventing the skin from splitting.
- Lanolin cream soothes the cracks and itch that can occur from chilblains.
- Warming your shoes and slippers on the radiator before you put them on.
- Do not heat your feet or hands near heaters or fires.
- Do gentle exercises to warm up your feet before going out – like jumping on the spot, this will improve circulation.
What are the treatment options?
If the skin is itchy, a soothing lotion such as witch hazel or calamine can help. Most importantly, keeping the toes warm and dry as much as possible. Occasionally the skin can break. If it does, apply a dressing to keep infection at bay. A combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise have also been proven to reduce the occurrence of Chilblains.
If you think you may have an infection or symptoms are not improving it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Your Podiatrist will be able to diagnosis correctly, apply dressings and prescribe creams which will improve the condition.