Chilblains are caused by damp cold weather. If the skin gets cold because of poor circulation the tiny blood vessels under the skin narrow (constrict) and when the area rewarms fluid leaks from the blood vessels into the tissues. This can cause inflammation leading to small purplish red itchy shiny swollen areas developing on the toes. If you rub these itchy areas skin breakdown can occur and you risk a secondary bacterial infection.
Warming up the skin too quickly when it is cold can cause chilblains. Chilblains can occur several hours after exposure to the cold. Chilblains last about 7 days if you are not exposed to the cold again.
Some drugs, for example beta blockers, can cause narrowing of blood vessels which can make you more prone to chilblains. [It is extremely important to take your medication as prescribed by your doctor however tell your doctor if you have just started taking a new drug and are now suffering from chilblains]
Prevention is the Best Treatment
- Keep your feet and legs warm
- Wear warm clothes
- Men - wear knee length socks in winter and possibly in summer as well but this will depend on how cold your legs and feet are
- Women - wear at least 40 denier stockings or tights, 40 or 50 denier knee highs or knee length socks in winter and possibly in summer as well but this will depend on how cold your legs and feet are
- Wear wool based clothes, they are much warmer than synthetic fibres
- Wear bed socks
- Wear warm pyjamas
- Wear sturdy shoes or boots
- Take a bath before bedtime to warm yourself up. Do not expose cold toes to the warm/hot water immediately. Get in the bath and then immediately lift the toes out of the water. Allow your feet to gradually warm up before immersing them completely in the hot water
- Take exercise within your normal capabilities
- Put your coat on 5-10 minutes before going outside on a cold day. Warm yourself up inside the house before going out.