Chilblains: Cold Weather Woes For Your Feet and Toes!

Red, itchy and swollen toes are common symptoms of chilblains

It’s that time of year again when the low temperatures are making our feet feel frozen, numb and cold. All you want to do is find warmth in a nice hot shower, electric blanket, hot water bottle or heater. You may not know it yet, but sometimes exposing your feet to extreme changes in temperatures can cause chilblains. Chilblains present as itchy and painful red lumps on your toes that can drive you up the wall!

CHILBLAINS: What are chilblains?

Chilblains (also called erythema pernio) are small itchy, red (and sometimes blue to purple) swellings on the skin, which can be painful. Chilblains are a reaction to severe cold weather when our capillaries shrink to keep the warmth of our blood close to our bodies and not close to the skin where heat is lost. When we rewarm the feet too quickly, this can lead to leakage of fluid and blood into the toes leading to chilblains. The fluid and blood in the tissue can cause redness and cause irritation and itching and sometimes they can break down to become a small ulcer prone to infection.

CHILBLAINS: Who is at risk of getting chilblains?

Particular population groups prone to getting chilblains are:

  • People who smoke (this can lead to constriction of arteries as well as peripheral arterial disease)
  • People with connective tissue disorders (for example lupus)
  • People who suffer from Raynauds syndrome
  • People with a family history of chilblains
  • People with poor circulation such as those are living with Diabetes
  • Those who enjoy the outdoors but neglect to keep their feet warm and dry

CHILBLAINS: What are the symptoms of chilblains?

Chilblains usually cause discomfort, pain and can be extremely itchy. They usually appear as red / purple lumps and in some cases they can blister and scab over. They usually last for a week or longer and subside with appropriate treatment or when the warmer weather arrives. Chilblains occur mainly on the extremities (toes, fingers, nose, ears) and over bony areas (knuckles).



CHILBLAINS: How do I avoid getting chilblains?

These are the steps you need to take to prevent chilblains happening to you:

  • Keep your feet warm at all times
  • Try not to go from cold to hot quickly
  •  If your feet are cold it is important to warm them up slowly
  • Avoid jumping in a hot shower or putting your feet in front of the heater straight after coming in from the cold. Make sure the water temperature isn’t too hot to start with but slowly increase the temperature.
  • Instead, slip on a pair of slippers or some thick woollen socks and slowly warm them up or using heat bag to warm them up slowly.
  • Avoid walking around barefoot. Instead, wear socks and slippers/shoes to keep your feet warm.

CHILBLAINS: How do I treat chilblains at home?

Red and purple lumps

If you have chilblains, these are some home treatments you can try:

  • Resist the urge to scratch, as this will further damage the skin.
  • Use calamine lotion or witch hazel to soothe the itching
  • Rub Deep Heat or similar onto the feet to promote heat and circulation
  • Wear woollen or cotton socks.
  • Keep your whole body warm.

It’s important that you make sure what you have is a chilblain before commencing any home remedies. If you’re not sure then seek help from a podiatrist.

Our Podiatrists can distinguish chilblains from many other skin conditions after taking a thorough history and inspecting the lesions on your feet. You will then be given a management plan that will not only treat the symptoms but also identify the root cause of why your chilblains have developed in the first place. We are big on preventative care so you will be able to learn ways you can avoid getting chilblains in the future.

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