I bet you can all remember your Gran saying “Oh my chilblains!”
Well, you’ll probably hear it again as it’s that time of year! When it’s freezing outside, one of the first parts of our body to notice this is our poor feet. If you’ve noticed any small, itchy, painful lumps that have developed on the skin around the foot and ankle area, then most likely you have developed the dreaded CHILBLAINS.
Chilblains are caused by poor circulation when the skin is exposed to cold. Chilblains feel much like a sensitive rub point (if you are a runner) and you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re an oncoming blister. They appear over a couple of hours and last up to a fortnight and in some cases months!
Chilblains are worse in cold, winter months
Even though anyone can get chilblains, they occur more in women, as women really do feel the cold more than men and there’s nothing like a spell of freezing weather to highlight that.
During the cold winter months, the body shuts down the circulation to the extremities, such as the hands and feet as a way of conserving heat to make sure that vital organs, including the heart and lungs, continue to function well. So, for women, seasonal differences are more marked because they have a more evenly distributed fat layer. This works like internal insulation, drawing heat and blood inwards but leaving fingers, toes and noses cold.
It’s thought that around 10% of people in the UK suffer from chilblains. In the UK, which is known for its wet and chilly climate, also has a 10% increase in new cases of chilblains per year.
Chilblains most often develop on the toes and fingers.
Common symptoms include:
- A burning sensation on the skin
- Red, blue or white swollen patches
- Intense itching
- Dry skin, leading to splits and cracks
- Possible secondary infection
- Ulceration, in severe cases.
Treating the Chilblains:
- Stay warm, especially in colder weather – The main cause of chilblains is exposure to cold temperatures
- Stay active – Exercise helps your circulation, and is great for your overall health
- Stop smoking – Nicotine in cigarettes causes blood vessels to constrict, which can make chilblains worse
- Take good care of your feet – Wearing the correct footwear and moisturising regularly keeps the skin healthy, and healthy skin is less prone to cracking. If you are diabetic or HIV/AIDS or Lupus have regular foot check-ups.
- Medicines are not generally needed
- If you are elderly and suffer from poor circulation then having regular checks during the cold winter months to make sure your feet are in good condition is important.
- Chilblains usually take one to two weeks to get better if you keep warm.
Chilblains can cause so much discomfort in the colder wetter months, but don’t tend to leave lasting damage. If they become a real issue, some topical creams can help stimulate circulation. Ask your Podiatrist or Foot Health Practitioner for further advice, contact your pharmacist, or you might want to visit your GP as in some circumstances they may consider a drug to help dilate the small blood vessels, but this is rarely ever needed.