Chilblains – Winter Woes for Your Toes

Winter has well and truly set in and the cold temperatures can make our feet feel frozen and numb, and cause painful conditions such as chilblains. The Walking Clinic is the trusted foot clinic Belconnen, Kingston and Woden locals rely on to keep their feet in top condition. When the cold rolls in, you might just want to find warmth in a nice hot shower, hot water bottle or heater, however exposing your feet to extreme changes in temperatures can cause chilblains. Let’s take a look at what chilblains are, who is at risk and what you can do if you get them this winter.

What Are Chilblains?

Chilblains, also known as pernio, are small itchy, red/purple swellings that develop on the body’s extremities, most commonly on the toes, heels and other areas of the feet. Painful and tender to touch, chilblains are an abnormal reaction to severe cold weather. When the skin is cold, blood vessels constrict and when the skin is exposed to heat, blood vessels dilate and become wider. If this constriction and dilation of blood vessels occurs too quickly, the vessels can become damaged and fluid can leak into the surrounding tissue causing inflammation, which is known as a chilblain.

What are the Symptoms?

Chilblains usually cause discomfort, pain and can be extremely itchy. They usually appear as red or purple lumps on the toes and feet and in some cases they can blister and scab over. They usually appear within a few hours of exposure to the cold and symptoms can last 1-2 weeks.

Who is at Risk?

More common in the elderly, women and children, but can occur at any age. Chilblains may affect you if:

  • You smoke (due to nicotine induced vasoconstriction)
  • Have poor circulation or have a condition that affects circulation such as diabetes, vasculitis or Raynaud’s disease
  • You have peripheral arterial disease (diminished blood flow to extremities)
  • You suffer from an auto immune disease (for example lupus)
  • You have a family history of chilblains
  • You enjoy the outdoors but neglect to keep your feet warm and dry
  • You are on certain medications that cause blood vessels to constrict, such as beta blockers

Prevention of Chilblains

To prevent chilblains happening to you, there are a few measures you can take:

  • Keep your feet warm
  • Try not to go from cold to hot too quickly – it is important to warm up your feet slowly if they are cold. Avoid jumping in a hot shower with really cold feet or putting your freezing feet in front of the heater
  • Avoid walking around barefoot – wear socks and shoes or slippers to keep your feet warm
  • Limit exposure to the cold
  • Paraffin wax foot baths at your podiatry or foot clinic can assist in stimulating circulation to reduce your risk
  • Stay active to improve your circulation

Treatment of Chilblains

If you have chilblains, resist the urge to scratch, as this will further damage the skin. You can use calamine lotion to soothe the itching and keep your feet warm by wearing woollen or cotton socks. In severe cases where the skin has broken and formed a sore, seek medical attention from your podiatrist. A podiatrist may prescribe steroid creams, oral medicines (for persons with chronic chilblains) which help to vasodilate the small blood vessels or antibiotic ointment for any areas of skin which become open. In many cases, chilblains will clear up on their own. Consult your podiatrist if

  • the chilblains are very painful
  • the skin looks infected
  • the chilblains become cracked or sore
  • there is no improvement after a week

If you have diabetes or a circulation disorder, see a podiatrist or GP as soon as possible after developing chilblains.

At The Walking Clinic, our Podiatrists are experienced in diagnosing and treating chilblains and other foot conditions. If you have concerns about developing chilblains this winter, seek expert advice from the podiatrists art our Belconnen foot clinic today. Book an appointment online or call one of our 4 conveniently located clinics now.