What are chilblains?
Chilblains (also called pernio) are small itchy, red (and sometimes purple) swellings on the skin. They may become increasingly painful, swell and then dry out leaving cracks in the skin that expose the foot to the risk of infection. They occur on the toes (particularly the smaller ones), fingers, face, nose and ears. They can lead to blisters and break down to become a small ulcer prone to infection.
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. Not everyone develops them as this depends to a large extent on the efficiency of your circulation and reaction to cold. It is thought that rapid temperature changes from cold to hot can also be a cause. 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 them?
Painful chilblains are common, the condition mainly affects young adults working outdoors in cold places or people who do not wear socks or tights in winter. Elderly people, whose circulation is less efficient than it used to be, people who don’t take enough exercise and those suffering from anaemia are also susceptible.
How do I know I have them?
During the onset of winter, susceptible people will experience burning and itching on their hands and feet. Upon entering a warm room, the itching and burning is intensified. There may also be some swelling or redness and in extreme cases the surface of the skin may break and sores (ulcers) may develop.
What are the treatments?
If you have developed chilblains do not scratch them, instead use soothing lotions such as witch hazel and calamine on them to take away most of the discomfort.
If the chilblain has ulcerated, apply an antiseptic dressing. If you have diabetes or are undergoing medical treatment, do have the ulcer assessed by your GP or Podiatrist. Here at Waverley foot Clinic this problem is something we often advise upon.
If the chilblains have not broken, you can paint them with a mixture of friar’s balsam and a weak solution of iodine, which your pharmacist may make up for you or an over-the-counter preparation. At night, rub some lanolin ointment well into the feet to help retain the heat.
How can I prevent them?
The best way to prevent chilblains is to keep your legs, feet and body warm, especially if your circulation is poor and your mobility is limited.
The whole body, rather than just the feet, needs to be kept warm. Trousers, long boots, tights, leg warmers, long socks and gloves will also help. Research has shown double layers of warm clothing to the legs in cold weather may help to keep the extremities warm.
CONTACT WAVEREY FOOT CLINIC
Please call the clinic for an appointment if you require further foot health advice or treatment