What are chilblains?
Chilblains, also known as pernio, manifest as small, itchy, red, and sometimes purple swellings on the skin. These sensitivities can intensify, cause swelling and eventually dry out, leading to the formation of skin cracks that expose the foot to infection risks. Affected areas can include the toes (especially the smaller ones), fingers, face, nose, and ears. The condition can progress to blisters and the development of small ulcers that are susceptible to infection.
What causes them?
Chilblains form when the tiny blood vessels beneath the skin constrict in response to cold conditions, restricting blood flow until the area warms up again. This can lead to a leakage of fluid into the surrounding tissue. Not everyone is prone to developing chilblains, as it largely depends on the efficiency of your circulation and your reaction to cold. It is also believed that sudden temperature changes, going from cold to hot, can contribute to their occurrence. If the skin becomes chilled and is then rapidly warmed near a fire or through the use of a hot water bottle, chilblains may occur.
Who gets them?
Chilblains, a painful condition, often affects young adults working in cold outdoor environments or individuals who neglect to wear appropriate winter footwear like socks or tights. Older individuals with decreased circulation, those leading sedentary lifestyles, and individuals with anaemia also have a heightened susceptibility to this condition.
How do I know I have them?
As winter sets in, individuals prone to sensitivity may encounter a sensation of burning and itching in their hands and feet. The discomfort intensifies upon entering a warm room, sometimes accompanied by swelling or redness. In more severe instances, the skin’s surface may rupture, leading to the formation of sores or ulcers.
What are the treatments?
If you’re experiencing chilblains, avoid scratching them. Instead, alleviate the discomfort by applying soothing lotions like witch hazel and calamine. In case the chilblain becomes ulcerated, use an antiseptic dressing. It’s important to have the ulcer assessed by your GP or podiatrist if you have diabetes or are undergoing medical treatment. At Waverley Foot Clinic, we frequently provide advice on dealing with this issue.
For chilblains that haven’t broken, you can use a combination of friar’s balsam and a weak solution of iodine, which can be prepared by your pharmacist or purchased over the counter. Before bed, massage some lanolin ointment into your feet to retain heat. This will provide relief throughout the night.
How can I prevent them?
To prevent chilblains, it is crucial to maintain warmth in your legs, feet, and body, especially if you have poor circulation or limited mobility. It is not just the feet that require warmth, but the entire body. Wearing trousers, long boots, tights, leg warmers, long socks, and gloves can provide additional protection. Research suggests that wearing double layers of warm clothing on the legs during cold weather can effectively keep the extremities warm.
Contact Waverley Foot Clinic
If you need any additional foot health advice or treatment, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the clinic and schedule an appointment. Our team is here to assist you, learn more.
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