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Chilblains                                                            Foot Care

What are chilblains?

Chilblains are small red, hot, itchy swellings that usually appear on the skin of the fingers and toes.

What causes chilblains?

Chilblains develop as a result of the skins abnormal reaction to the cold. In cold and damp weather, if the skin is cooled down and then rapidly heated, a chilblain may develop, for example if feet or hands have been warmed by a fire or radiator.

Anyone can develop chilblains, though some people are more susceptible than others:

  • Those with a poor circulation such as the elderly
  • Young adults who work outdoors
  • People who wear tights or thin socks and shoes in cold weather
  • People with conditions such as Raynauld's phenomenon and anaemia
  • Women are more prone than men

What are the signs & symptoms of chilblains?

It is common to experience one or more of the following signs and symptoms with chilblains:

  • Red, itchy, burning, painful swelling of the skin
  • The tips of toes or fingers, nose, earlobes and areas of high pressure such as bunions and clawed toes can be affected
  • The chilblain can swell, becoming a dark blue colour before drying out and cracking
  • Cracking of the skin can increase the risk of infection and ulceration, particularly if the circulation is poor

Treatment of chilblains

  • Do not scratch! To relieve itching, apply a soothing lotion such as calamine, or witch hazel
  • If the skin isn't broken, see a pharmacist for an over the counter preparation such as friars balsam to apply to the affected area
  • If the skin has broken, cover with a dry dressing to prevent infection and try and keep dry until the area has healed
  • If the skin ulcerates or fails to heal, contact a Podiatrist or GP
  • Diabetics should contact their podiatrist or GP immediately
  • Keep feet warm and at an even temperature - this will aid healing and prevent further chilblains from developing

What can a Podiatrist do?

  • Identify whether a chilblain has developed and if the skin has broken
  • Check for signs of infection
  • Treat and dress areas of broken skin and ulceration
  • Advise on suitable treatments available from the pharmacy
  • Give advice on preventing recurrence
  • Some podiatrists can prescribe antibiotics for local infections
    Prevention of chilblains

Most chilblains develop during the winter months so extra care needs to be taken during this time. Look after your feet during cold spells and damp weather too by following this advice:

  • Do not allow your feet to be exposed to direct heat sources by resting them close to radiators, electric fires, heaters, electric blankets and hot water bottles
  • Keep feet warm and at an even temperature by wearing socks made of natural fibres such as cotton and wool
  • It is better to wear two pairs of thinner socks than one pair of thick socks. Warm air is trapped between the layers helping to insulate the feet
  • Avoid wearing shoes made of thin materials, especially those with a thin sole. Invest in shoes or boots with a fleece or wool lining
  • To avoid tightness and discomfort, ensure there is sufficient room in your shoes for extra layers of socks
  • Lanolin based creams and ointments applied to the skin can help the feet retain heat
  • Speak to a Podiatrist for advise on how to care for your feet throughout the year

Athletes Foot | Chilblains | Corns | Cracked Heels | Nail Surgery
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  Last modified:  11-Mar-2014