Chilblains

Winter is coming and so is the chilblains season. In the recent days with the temperatures dropping to zero, we have already seen a few patients with this condition in our clinic. Here is a short summary of what chilblains are, how they are treated and what are the best ways to prevent them this time of the year.

What are Chilblains?

Chilblains are painful inflammation of the small blood vessels in your skin. They occur in response to repeated exposure to cold but not freezing temperature. In cold air, the tiny blood vessels tighten. When exposed to warm air, they may widen too quickly causing blood to leak into nearby tissue.

Chilblains are common in Ireland as the weather is often damp and cold, especially in the winter time.

Symptoms

Chilblains usually develop several hours after exposure to the cold and may take the following characteristics:

  • Small, red, itchy patches on the skin 
  • Swollen and sometimes shiny 
  • Burning sensations 
  • Possible blistering or skin ulcers
  • Change of skin colour to red or dark blue

Causes

The cause of chilblains is unclear. However, there are many risk factors such as:

  • Smoking
  • Poor circulation 
  • Being female
  • Having Raynaud’s disease (a condition which affects blood flow to the hands and feet)
  • Having lupus
  • Living in damp conditions
  • Family history of chilblains 

Treatment

Chilblains usually go away on their own. It can depend on the person but generally it takes between 1 and 3 weeks to clear up. 

It is important not to scratch the skin as it can easily break. If the skin does break, it should be protected using a dry dressing to prevent infection. In these cases where the skin has broken, it is best to see a professional such as GP or a podiatrist who can minimise the risk of infection. This would be especially important for patients with a low immune system such as those with diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.

As the chilblains are healing, you can apply an unscented lotion to help keep the area moisturised and prevent any cracking or blistering. If there is consistent itching, a GP may prescribe a corticosteroid cream to reduce inflammation. If the chilblains are severe and keep returning, a GP may prescribe a blood pressure tablet to help improve the circulation. 

Prevention

Prevention is always better than treatment. Here are few of our tips on what you can do to prevent chilblains this winter season:

  • Protect the feet from cold temperatures by wearing well fitting shoes, warm socks from natural fibres such as cotton, wool or bamboo, and a thermal lined insole.
  • Placing cotton wool between the toes may help.
  • Avoid rapid changes of temperature. If the feet get cold, it is important to warm them up gradually. Using hot water or a heater to warm them up is one of the main causes of chilblains.
  • Improve circulation by keeping active, quitting smoking, regular exercise and a healthy diet. 
I think Elsa would find this article helpful!

If you think you have chilblains, try the preventative measures first. However, if they don’t work do seek professional advice.

To book your appointment at South Dublin Podiatry Clinic call 0838241454 or click here.

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