Chilblains are a painful reaction of blood vessels in the when exposed to cooler temperatures. The cold causes a closing of the small blood vessels in the skin and if rewarming of the skin happens too rapidly, there is leakage of blood into the tissues as the vessels do not respond quickly enough to this warming. Chilblains are not very common in countries where the cold is more extreme as the air is drier.
appear as small red itchy areas on the skin. Chilblains become increasingly painful and take on a dark blue appearance. They may also become swollen. As they dry out, chilblains leave cracks in the skin.
are more common in those that are just more susceptible to them - the reasons for this are not entirely clear. Factors that contribute to tendency to chilblains include, a familial tendency, poor circulation, anemia, poor nutrition, hormonal changes, some connective tissue disorders and some bone marrow disorders. Damp living conditions may also increase the risk for chilblains.
Prevention of chilblains:
Keeping your feet warm is an important way to prevent chilblains - use trousers, high top boots, tights, leg warmers and long, thick woollen socks. If your feet do get cold, allow them to warm up slowly - do not put them straight in front of a source of heat (this gives a chance for the circulation to respond to the warming skin). Do not let the feet become exposed to any source of direct heat (eg a heater), especially if the foot is very cold - this is a common factor causing chilblains. Smoking also interferes with the circulation in the small blood vessels and increases the risk of getting chilblains.
Once a chilblain develops:
* do not rub or scratch chilblains
* avoid direct heat (ie do not expose the feet to a heater), but keep the feet warm by the use of woollen socks and footwear
* use soothing lotions (eg calamine lotion)
* if the skin is broken, use an antiseptic dressing to prevent the chilblains becoming infected
* those with diabetes or poor circulation should see a Podiatrist. The risk of further complications from the chilblains in those with a foot that is 'at risk' is too high to delay seeking professional help
* thermal or insulating insoles can help keep the foot warm to prevent chilblains
* lanolin or a similar lotion that is rubbed into the feet will help stimulate the circulation
* there are a number of natural or homeopathic remedies that are recommended for the treatment of chilblains. Some of these do appear to help some people.