What are Chilblains?
As we slowly get closer to the colder months here in Sydney, Australia, it is important to prepare yourself for the change in weather and understand some of the common conditions that can come with it! Chilblains is a condition that involves reduced blood circulation as a result of exposure to cold, resulting in itchy, red, swollen skin. It is most common in the extremities such as your toes, fingers & ears, and can be present anywhere from 7 days to a number of months!It’s quite a common condition, with 1 in 10 people in the UK experiencing Chilblains at some point in their life (granted it is much colder in the UK, but is still very common in Australia!). The elderly and young are the most vulnerable, although it can be experienced by anyone at any age.
What are the causes?Chilblains are mostly associated with prolonged exposure to cold or damp air. The cold air causes the blood vessels near your skin’s surface to constrict, leading to reduced oxygenation in these areas (mostly the body’s extremities).The exact reason behind this peripheral reaction is mostly unknown, but experts believe it may be related to genetics, hormonal changes and underlying conditions such as connective tissue disorder. It’s also been found that those with impaired peripheral blood circulation will be more likely to experience chilblains, hence it being more common with the elderly and those with underlying heart conditions.
What are the symptoms?Chilblains often present as painful, swollen patches of skin. Common symptoms that can be associated with chilblains include:
- Inflammation: the toes can become swollen.
- Burning sensations in your toes.
- Itchy, red areas on the skin
- Blistering, ulceration and breakdown of the skin in more extreme cases
- Possible infections in some cases
Is it Chilblains or Raynauds?Raynauds is a very similar condition to Chilblains with some minor differences. Raynaud’s occurs when blood supply to the extremities (toes, fingers, ears etc.) has been affected. Chillblains refers to the small patches of inflamed skin. Not everyone with Chilblains will have Raynauds, although because both conditions are related to circulation many people with Raynauds will have Chilblains.
Treatment for ChilblainsMost treatments for chilblains are focused on maintaining good circulation and keeping your toes warm. This may be done in a number of ways:
- Assuring your wearing properly-fitted, enclosed shoes. Tight or small shoes can cause circulatory issues and potentially cause your toes to rub and blister
- Keep your entire body warm and wear layered clothing
- Take NSAID’s such as ibuprofen to help manage inflammation
- Use unscented lotion to moisterise the affected area
- Regular exercise, not smoking and having a balanced diet is essential for proper circulation
- Oral medication such as Nifedipine to improve circulation
- Topical medication such as Nitroglycerin to manage pain and itching.
- Infection management by your podiatrist or doctor may need to take place if the skin has broken.