SandsClinic

Chilblains are small, itchy swellings on the skin that occur as a reaction to cold temperatures. They usually affect the body's extremities, such as toes, fingers, ears, and nose. Chilblains can be uncomfortable, but rarely cause any permanent damage. They normally heal within a few weeks if cold is avoided.

Presentation

Chilblains usually develop several hours after exposure to the cold. There is associated burning and itching in the affected regions.

The affected skin may also swell and turn red or dark blue. 

In severe cases, the surface of the skin may break, and sores or blisters can develop.  It is important not to scratch the skin as it can break easily and become infected.

Causes

Chilblains are the result of an abnormal reaction to the cold. They are common in places where damp, cold weather is common in winter.

When the skin is cold, blood vessels near its surface get narrower. If the skin is then exposed to heat, the blood vessels become wider. If this happens too quickly, blood vessels near the surface of the skin cannot always handle the increased blood flow.

This can cause blood to leak into the surrounding tissue, which may cause the swelling and itchiness associated with chilblains.

People at a higher risk of chilblains

Some people are more at risk of chilblains than others.

This includes people with:

Poor circulation, a family history of chilblains, regular exposure to cold, damp or draughty conditions

A poor diet or low body weight, lupus, Raynaud's phenomenon

People who smoke.

Chilblains can also occur on areas of the feet exposed to pressure, such as a bunion or a toe that's squeezed by tight shoes.

Self-help tips

Limiting your exposure to the cold, looking after your feet.

Taking steps to improve your circulation.

If your skin gets cold, it is important to warm it up gradually. Heating the skin too quickly is one of the main causes of chilblains.

Stop smoking, keep active to improve your circulation.

Wear warm clothes and insulate your hands, feet and legs.

Avoid tight shoes and boots as these can restrict the circulation to your toes and feet.

Moisturise your feet regularly to stops them drying out and the skin cracking.

Eat at least one hot meal during the day to help warm your whole body.

Warm your shoes before you put them on and make sure damp shoes are dry before wearing them.

Warm your hands before going outdoors, soak them in warm water for several minutes and dry thoroughly, and wear cotton-lined waterproof gloves if necessary.

Treatment

Chilblains often get better on their own after a week or two without treatment. No evidence supports the use of over-the-counter topical preparations for chilblains.

If they become recurrent you could be prescribed some medications to relax the blood vessels.

When do you get in touch with Sandsclinic?

If you have any pain or discolouration on you hands or feet, especially if it is not getting any better on its own.

We might just know how to handle it.