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The cooler weather is starting to creep up on us, and the incidence of chilblains will start to rise.

What are Chilblains?

Chilblains are red lumps or sores that can develop on toes and fingers and can be quite painful or itchy. They can also affect your nose or ears as well. In severe cases they can cause breakdown of the skin and ulcerations.

Chilblains is a condition that affect the small blood vessels in your skin, most commonly in your feet and hands. The small blood vessels become inflamed and constrict and there is less blood flow to your skin. This occurs due to repetitive exposure to the cold air and it presents as red itchy patches, blistering, swelling, and peeling of the skin on your hands and feet. Chilblains typically resolves over a few weeks but sometimes the blistering and peeling of the skin can lead to increase risk of infection, which can cause major damage if it hasn’t been treated properly.

They occur as a result of your body’s inability to adapt quickly enough to changes in temperature. They only happen in cool weather. The blood vessels shrink and then suddenly expand again when exposed to warmth. This causes leakage of fluid out of the vessels and inflammation in the soft tissue.

Cause and risk factors of chilblains – 

There is no definite known cause of chilblains but it is said that there is abnormal reaction that occurs, which causes the small blood vessels to constrict due to possible exposure to the cold climate. Some of the risk factors of chilblains are –

1. Clothes that too tight or clothes that expose your body to the cold cause can lead to constriction of the vessels.

2. Women have a higher risk of developing chilblains compared to men. 

3. Having reduce/poor circulation.

4. Having other underlying conditions such as diabetes. 

5. Having immune disorders, e.g. Lupus, has been linked to the development of chilblains.

Symptoms of chilblains includes

  • SwellingBurning

  • /stinging sensation of your skin

  • The colour of your skin can change to a purplish/bluish tinge due to the lack of blood flow.

  • Blistering

  • Skin ulcerations

  • Itchy/red areas on your skin

How to prevent chilblains 

Ensure that you limit your exposure to the cold. Cut down on cigarettes/smoking if you smoke. Keep hands and feet warm as they are more susceptible. Make sure that your environment around you is kept warm as well, including your home and workplace.Ensure that you gradually warm the affected area as sudden heat can cause the chilblains to become worse.

If your chilblains doesn’t resolve or gets worse then, you should see your doctor in order to rule out any other conditions.

Who gets chilblains?

Chilblains are more common in females, and in females are more common prior to puberty and after menopause. The are also more common in slim people and smokers.

Tips for treating chilblains

It’s best to avoid sudden changes in temperature (like suddenly warming your feet in front of a heater if they are cold). If they develop there are topical ointments that can be applied to help with the itching and pain. They usually heal up in a few weeks. Your podiatrist can give helpful advice on topical treatments, insulating insoles, dressings should the lesions break down and prevention tips. Other treatments include regular exercise for circulation and stopping smoking.

If they are a chronic concern or severe there are oral medications from your GP that can help. Your podiatrist at The Perth Foot and Ankle Clinic can help with prevention and management tips for your chilblains.

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