During the November #askAmy Live session on Facebook, chilblains came up as a question. Around the same time that I saw a few patients with the conditionÂ and around the time that the clocks changed and it got very cold! Considering winter is traditionally “chilblain” season, it probably isn’t huge coincidence and it’s definitely worth knowing a bit more about this condition and what you an do to try and prevent them.
What are Chilblains?
Chilblains are small red (sometimes purple), itchy swellings on the skin, they can get increasingly painful and swell up causing the skin to split. This can (sometimes) lead to a local infection in the foot. They are found commonly on the tips of toes, as well as the fingers, nose and ear lobes.
Chilblains can lead to a blister forming over the area which, if it breaks down, will ulcerate. This can increase the risk of infection and takes longer to heal.
What causes them?
Chilblains develop when the tiny blood vessels under the skin constrict under cold conditions reducing the flow of blood, until the area warms up again and causes some leakage of fluid into the surrounding tissue. They are caused by the skinâs abnormal reaction to cold, but not everyone develops them. People with poor circulation and other health problems involving their blood vessels are likely to be more prone to developing chilblains. In addition, damp conditions, dietary factors and hormonal imbalance can also be contributory factors. Â It is thought that rapid temperature change from cold to hot can also be a cause. Â
If the skin is chilled and is then followed by too rapid warming next to a fire or through using a hot water bottle, chilblains may result.
Who gets chilblains?
There is a common misconception that itâs only the elderly that get chilblains. However, it is most common in young adults who work outside, or donât wear socks or tights in the winter months.
However, those with a less than efficient circulatory system, people diagnosed with anaemia and those whoÂ donât get enough exercise can be susceptible too.
How do I treat them?
If you have chilblains, DO NOT scratch them. I know itâs very tempting but doing so may break the skin, making things worse. If the skin is unbroken, I’dÂ advise to paint some Friarâs Balsam on the area or an iodine based product. If the skin is broken, an antiseptic dressing is best to prevent infection.
How to prevent chilblains?
The best way to prevent chilblains is to keep yourself warm, and not just your feet. Itâs a good idea to wear layers e.g. thermal tights, long johns and two pairs of socks instead of one thicker pair. Keeping the whole body warmer will reduce the likelihood of a sudden drop in temperature to the extremities; so cosy gloves, hat and scarf as just as important as tights and socks!
Here’s my #toptips.
- Get yourself a good pair of winter boots, something with a thick sole to keep your feet further off the cold ground.
- Wearing two pairs of socks will keep you warmer than one thick pair, they dont need to be woolen, just something that will keep your toes cosy. For me, I wear two pairs of bamboo socks for winter boots and just one pair in normal shoes.
- Invest in some cosy insoles for your shoes (if there is enough room in the shoe for them).
Stay cosy guys! #amymacpod