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What are Chilblains?

Chilblains can be small,  itchy swellings on the skin and usually occur as a reaction to cold temperatures.  They usually present on  or around  the body’s extremities,  such as the toes, fingers, heels, ears and the nose.  Chilblains can be  uncomfortable at times  and can be prevented.  They usually begin their development several hours after exposure to the cold and it is possible to be affected in several locations at the same time.  The symptoms of chilblains can include burning , itching on the hands or feet and often show a change of skin colour.  In some cases,  the skin can become sore and even blister.  Some people have chilblains every winter that last for up to five months. These can cause persistent sores that could even lead to scarring.


What are  the causes chilblains?

Chilblains are an abnormal reaction to the cold. When the skin is cold, blood vessels near its surface become more narrow.   If the skin is then exposed to heat, the blood vessels become wider.  If this happens too quickly, blood can leak into the surrounding tissue.  This is thought to be the reason for the swelling and itchiness associated with chilblains. Chilblains can occur at any age, but are more common in children and elderly people. The condition also affects women more than men. Certain people, such as people with poor circulation, are more susceptible to chilblains.   Chilblains are common in  ‘Northern Europe’,  where damp, cold weather is usual in winter.  They are less common in countries with extremely cold winters,  because the air is more dry (with less moisture).


1) Cyanotic phase of Chilblains.


2) Hyperaemic phase of Chilblains.


3) Post Hyperaemic phase.

Treating chilblains.

Chilblains will often get better on their own after one to two weeks if you keep warm.  Several creams and lotions are available to treat chilblains. However, there is little clinical evidence to show that they work and therefore they are not often recommended. If your chilblains keep returning, your GP might recommend a drug called ‘Nifedipine’.  

Nifedipine’ works by relaxing the blood vessels, allowing better circulation in the smallest blood vessels of the skin (skin capillaries) . As treatment is not always effective, it is better to prevent getting chilblains by limiting your exposure to the cold  (keeping your footwear free from dampness, your feet dry & warm).

When to see your Podiatrist.

Redness and itching on the skin of your feet, hands or other extremities are obvious signs that you have chilblains.  However, if you are unsure,  speak to your Podiatrist .  If your chilblains have broken, cracked or become sore,  see your Podiatrist or GP.  Do not scratch the skin as it could break easily and become infected.   When it is cold,  people who are susceptible to chilblains will experience burning and itching after they enter a warm room, in the warmer temperatures the itching and burning sensation can become more intense. The affected skin could also swell and change colour to red from pale/dark blue. In extreme cases, the surface of the skin might break,  then infection can develop and even spread.  Chilblains usually take one to two weeks to get better if you keep warm.  Some cases can last for months (duration often  depends on prevailing weather conditions and  personal levels of thermal protectio

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Progressive phases of 'Chilblain development'. 

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1) Early 'Cyanotic' stage of Chilblains
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2) 'Hyperaemic' stage of Chilblains
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3) Chronic Hyperaemic stage of Chilblains
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4) Broken stage of Chilblains

Video: Hallux Valgus - ('Bunions') 

Video: Chilblains

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