Up to 1 in 10 people will suffer from this painful condition at some point in their life. Often when they are young or elderly.
Chilblains are red, itchy, painful swellings that occur on the skin as a reaction to cold temperatures. Most often, they occur on the extremities; toes, fingers, ears or even the nose.
Each cell in the body is like a little factory. They use oxygen to help them work and they create waste products that need to be taken away. The blood circulation provides the oxygen and the waste product removal.
When the body is exposed to cold temperatures, it is normal for the circulation to the extremities to be reduced so that the core of the body, where all the important organs are, remains warm. When the circulation is reduced to the extremities, the cool cells don’t work as hard, so they need less oxygen and they create less waste products.
Chilblains occur, in sufferers, when the extremities warm up too quickly before the circulation to those extremities has had time to improve. The cells start working faster, and there becomes a build up of waste products. The waste products are toxic to the surrounding cells and cause inflammation and even in extreme cases cell death. No wonder they hurt!
Mild chilblains can look just like small red areas, but when they are more severe the area can be red with a purple tinge and there can be blisters or small ulcers that can become infected. They can be itchy too, especially as they heal.
How can I avoid them?
- It may sound obvious but keeping your extremities warm is crucial. In cold weather, wearing long socks to keep the calf warm can really help. Sometimes 2 thin pairs of socks is better than 1 thick pair as they trap layers of warm air.
- Wear thick soled shoes, with thermal insoles, to insulate you from the cold floor.
- Well fitting shoes are important too as chilblains tend to come in areas of pressure.
- Medication such as Beta-Blockers can make them much worse so, if you are on this type of medication and are suffering with chilblains, speak to your GP about alternatives.
- If you do get cold, try to warm your hands and feet up slowly. Hot water bottles and car heaters are the worst culprits.
- Chilblain creams such as Akil Winter can be used to help prevent chilblains. They contain natural substances like capsaicin which cause a mild irritation to the skin improving the blood supply to the extremities.
What do I do if I’ve got them?
- Mild cases will heal up in 7-14 days if further exposure to cold is avoided.
- Chilblain cream or warming winter cream can be used to help them heal too, as long as the skin isn’t broken.
- If the skin is broken, bathe in warm saltwater and apply a clean dressing, daily, until they heal up.
- If they become increasingly painful or red, seek medical attention in case of infection.
There are other foot conditions that can look and feel like chilblains too. So, if you have any doubts, make an appointment with a HCPC registered Podiatrist. During your assessment they will check your circulation and sensation will be able to assess, diagnose and offer treatment to help your symptoms.
The Foot Room provides expert HCPC registered Podiatry treatment for chilblains, corns, hard skin, verrucas, fungal nail infections, ingrowing toenails and cracked heels. We have clinics within easy access of Longridge, Broughton, Garstang, Fulwood, Preston and Whalley.