Chilblains

Many people suffer from cold feet in winter, but not all of them develop chilblains. This depends to a large extent on the efficiency of the circulation, as they are a result of blockages to the micro-circulation.

Chilblains are small itchy, dusky red to blue, lozenge shaped swellings on the skin and can become increasingly painful. They can swell and then dry out leaving cracks in the skin which expose the foot to the risk of infection. They occur particularly on the toes, but also on fingers, nose, and the lobes of the ears. They can also occur on areas of the feet exposed to pressure.

Chilblains are caused by the skin’s abnormal reaction to cold. Damp or draughty conditions, dietary factors and hormonal imbalance can be contributory factors. If the skin is chilled, and is then followed by too rapid warming such as next to a fire or hot water bottle, chilblains may result.

Who is most at risk?

This condition mainly affects young adults working outdoors in cold places or people who do not wear socks or tights in winter. Elderly people, whose circulation is less efficient that it used to be, people who do not exercise enough, and those suffering from anaemia, are also susceptible.

What are the symptoms?

With the onset of the cold weather, susceptible people will experience burning and itching on their hands and feet. On going into a warm room, the itching and burning is intensified. There may be some swelling or redness, and in extreme cases, the surface of the skin may break, and sores (ulcers) may develop.