Chilblains are the painful inflammation of small blood vessels in your skin that occur in response to repeated exposure to cold but not freezing air. Chilblains can cause itching, red patches, swelling and blistering on your hands and feet.
Risk factors include:
Clothing that is tight or exposes skin to the cold. Wearing tight-fitting clothing and shoes in cold, damp weather may make you more susceptible to chilblains. And skin that is exposed to cold, damp conditions is more likely to develop chilblains.
Your sex and weight. Women are more likely to get chilblains than are children and males. Also, people who weigh about 20 percent less than is expected for their height have an increased risk of chilblains.
Environment and season. Chilblains are less likely in colder and drier areas because the living conditions and clothing used in these areas are more protective against cold. Your risk of chilblains is higher if you live in an area with damp and cold, but not freezing, temperatures. They are more common from November to April.
Having poor circulation. People with poor circulation tend to be more sensitive to changes in temperature, making them more susceptible to chilblains.
Having been diagnosed with Raynaud's disease. People with Raynaud's disease are more susceptible to chilblains. Either condition can result in sores, but Raynaud's causes different types of colour changes on the skin.
Chilblains most often develop on the toes. 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.
To help prevent chilblains:
· Avoid or limit your exposure to cold.
· Dress in layers of loose clothing and wear mittens and warm, water-resistant footwear.
· Cover all exposed skin as completely as possible when going outside in cold weather.
· Keep your hands, feet and face dry and warm.
· Keep your home and workplace comfortably warm.
· Don't smoke.
If your skin is exposed to cold, it's helpful to rewarm it gradually because sudden rewarming of cold skin may worsen chilblains.
Treatments for chilblains, which consist mainly of topical remedies and medications, are usually effective and the patient makes a full recovery within a couple of weeks. If left untreated though, there is a risk of complications, such as skin ulcers, cracked or broken skin, and infections.
The patient can treat chilblains that have not developed into and infection or skin ulcer with OTC medications purchased at a Chemist.
Corticosteroid cream - this may help with symptoms of inflammation and itching. If the skin is cracked the individual should see a doctor.
The following can ease symptoms:
· rewarm skin gently - do not massage, rub, or apply direct heat
· keep skin dry and warm
· apply lotion to reduce itching
· clean skin with an antiseptic to reduce the risk of infection
· do not scratch
Severe, ulcerating or recurring chilblains need professional attention. A qualified Foot Health Practitioner can offer advice on prevention. If you suffer from severe and recurring chilblains, your doctor may prescribe a preventive drug. If you have a pre‑existing condition, such as diabetes, you must see your doctor to check the circulation in the affected area without delay.