Top 9 Chilblain Questions

May 2, 2023

As a podiatry clinic in the uk, we often see a rise in chilblains over the colder winter months.  As a result, we have compiled the top questions we get asked.  We hope it helps!

What does a Chilblain look like?

A chilblain is a red itchy patch on the surface of the skin.

What causes Chilblains?

Chilblains are caused by a sudden drop in temperature, when a warm foot or hand is suddenly chilled and becomes cold, then is re-warmed up too quickly, this dramatic change in temperature can result in a chilblain.

What are the symptoms of chilblains?

This sudden change of temperature results in an itchy swelling on the foot that develops a few hours after exposure to hot then cold. This can be a burning itching sensation. Your skin colour can change, you can develop a red angry bruise on your skin, sometimes it can look almost blue, giving the skin a mottled appearance. In extreme cases this can break the skin, causing a risk of infection or ulceration.

Who Gets Chilblains?

People who suffer from poor circulation, tend to be more susceptible to suffering from this painful condition. Family history plays a part, if a member of your family has a tendency to suffer from chilblains, you could potentially also develop them. If you suffer from Raynaud’s Syndrome you can have a tendency to also develop chilblains. Those living with Diabetes are also more likely to suffer with Chilblains  and people who have an autoimmune disorder like lupus can develop a condition called Chilblain lupus (an autoimmune disorder is when your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells). People with chilblain lupus get painful red or purple sores and discoloured patches of skin.

How do you treat Chilblains?

Sometimes they get better on their own, this can take a few weeks, so you do need to be patient. Sometimes they blister, when this happens you need to dress the wound and keep it clean. If they blister you need to be vigilant in case you develop an ulcer, this can leave you prone to an infection. Occasionally you will need to visit a G.P or a Podiatrist especially if the wound is painful and infected and won’t heal on its own, or you are worried that it has ulcerated.  Never leave an ulcer untreated, always seek professional help to prevent long term health implications.

How can you prevent chilblains?

You need to keep your feet at a regular temperature, with central heating you forget the need for socks and shoes, these are there to keep your feet warm and dry. If the weather is particularly cold you might need thermal socks or tights, as a little note fighter pilots wear thermal tights and socks! These days you can buy thermal socks in a variety of togs, to suit your activity, they do make a difference, though it is always better to warm your feet before you put your tights, socks or slippers on, this will help keep your feet much warmer, hopefully preventing future chilblains. Be mindful to wear socks in the winter, people forget with centrally heated homes that our feet still get cold, warm feet are crucial to our overall health. Try not to walk around cold hard floors in bare feet, and do not put your cold feet on a hot radiator to heat up, both these activities promote chilblains Nicotine causes blood vessels to shrink, which in turn reduces the blood flow to your feet, so sufferers are recommended to try to stop smoking, if they can. For people that really suffer with their feet, there is a product called Plastazote. This is a specialist insulator, like a small insole, that you can place on the base of the inside of your shoe-this stops the cold coming up through the sole of your shoes, keeping your feet warmer and healthier. Not wearing the correct footwear for the weather also can impact the health of your feet i.e. sandals in winter!! Shoes should not be too tight or this restricts the blood flow, as well as causing corns, callus and toe deformities. If your shoes are to big this can also cause issues, your feet are more likely to get wet in the rain, your feet will be less insulated causing them to become colder, wet cold feet are more at risk of chilblains, as well as badly fitting shoes causing issues again like corns, callus and toe deformities.

Can a Podiatrist Help with Chilblains?

If an ulceration forms under the chilblain a podiatrist can correctly treat and dress the open wound, never leave any sore too long before you see a podiatrist or GP, if an ulcer forms this can become dangerous.

How can I treat my chilblains at home?

Creams can be obtained from a pharmacist or podiatrist, which can help warm the feet due to the warming ingredients contained in the creams that stimulate the blood flow. The creams also help the skin stay hydrated and they will help alleviate the itching and soreness. Feet and hands must be gently warmed, rapid reheating can make the chilblains worse. Never put your feet or hands straight into hot water, warm gently. Rub the affected digits to get the blood flowing, walk around somewhere warm to get the circulation moving, put on warm dry socks or mittens warm your slippers before putting them on, have a warm drink ( not alcohol) to help heat you up, invest in an electric blanket You will feel better quite quickly – but it takes time to fully heal a chilblain, on average of 2 to 3 weeks. If you are prone to chilblains it is far better to prevent them developing in the first place. Remember to keep your feet warm and dry at all times. Pre warm shoes before you put them on. Wear  ‘heat holder” style socks, but warm up your feet before you put them on,’heat holders’ work by keeping the heat in! You can do a lot to help yourself. A podiatrist will give advice as well as treatment.

Is Raynaud’s Syndrome the same as Chilblains?

Raynaud’s Syndrome is normally triggered by cold temperatures, anxiety or stress and it tends to occur when your blood vessels go into a temporary spasm.  When this occurs it blocks the flow/movement of blood causing the affected area which is usually your hands or feet to change colour to first white then blue and finally as the blood flow returns to red, because of this redness people mistake Raynaud’s Syndrome for Chilblains. Those that suffer with Raynard’s may experience tingling, numbness, a burning sensation, hands and feet feel cold to touch, also fingers, toes and the tip of your nose can appear white or blue-ish with discolouration, But if you have red patches, itching, blisters, swelling of the toes and fingers you could have chilblains, not Raynaud’s Syndrome, or you could be suffering for both. We hope you found this quickfire run down on chilblains helpful, and if you are suffering we hope you get relief soon!