June 2018

Blog 5 – Chilblain season is here!

It’s that time of year again when the temperature in the morning leaves our feet cold and seeking the warmth of a nice hot shower, electric blanket, hot water bottle or heater… but have you ever had itchy red lumps on your toes in the winter time that drive you up the wall?

For some of you this image of itchy red lumps on your feet brings back memories of our childhood as it is more common in our younger years when we would run around without shoes or socks on in the freezing cold.  This issue also arises in elderly people and can have more serious effects like ulceration and blistering of the chilblains (a photo of someone suffering from Chilblains is shown below).

What is a chilblain?
Chilblains are a reaction to severe cold weather when our capillaries shrink to keep the warmth of our blood close to our bodies and not close to the skin where heat is lost.  When we rewarm the feet too quickly this can lead to leakage of fluid and blood into the toes leading to chilblains.  The fluid and blood in the tissue can cause redness and cause irritation and itching.

Who is at risk?
Generally this condition is seen a lot in children as well as the elderly but can be seen in everyone.  There are particular population groups that need to be more careful including:

  • People who smoke (this can lead to constriction of arteries as well as peripheral arterial disease)
  • People with connective tissue disorders (for example lupus)
  • People who suffer from Raynauds syndrome
  • People with a family history of chilblains

I’m not sure if its a chilblain, what do they usually feel like?
Chilblains usually cause discomfort and pain and an extreme need to scratch the area.  They usually appear as red / purple lumps and in extreme cases they can blister and scab over.  They usually last for a week or longer and subside with appropriate treatment or warmer weather.  They are usually present on the extremities (toes, fingers, nose, ears) and over bony areas (knuckles).

Yep, sounds like me!  How do I stop myself from getting them?
It is important to keep your feet warm at all times and try not to go from cold to hot quickly.  If your toes are cold it is important to warm your toes up slowly, not jumping in a hot shower or putting your feet in front of the heater.  Slip on a pair of slippers or socks and slowly warm them up.  Avoid walking around barefoot and where socks and slippers/shoes all the time, particularly on cold mornings.  When you do get in the shower make sure the temperature is not too hot to start with and slowly increase the temperature.  Make sure you have some slippers near by for when you get out of the shower (dry in between those toes first!)

I have a chilblain, what should I do?
It’s important that you make sure it is a chilblain before commencing treatment.  Our podiatrists are able to diagnose chilblains with a few clinical tests and asking questions about your lifestyle.  We can then provide you with a treatment and prevention plan to make sure you don’t get them again, and more importantly they don’t get worse and blister.

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