Lindsey Ebbs Podiatry

Chilblains

What are they?

Chilblains (also called pernio) are small itchy, red (purple sometimes) swellings on the skin. If not addressed and treated, become very painful and can sometimes ulcerate, exposing the foot to the risk of infection. They occur on extremities like the toes, fingers, the face (especially the nose) and the lobes of the ears. Sometimes they occur on exposed areas of the legs and arms.

What causes them?

Chilblains develop when the body is exposed to colder conditions. The tiny blood vessels under the skin in the peripheral areas constrict and shut the blood flow to these areas and redirects the blood supply to the main organs in the body, like the brain, heart and lungs.

However, when a person returns into a warmer environment from the cold the small blood vessels should dilate (open) allowing the blood to flow back into the extremities again.

People who are prone to chilblains, have a time delay in the blood returning to the smaller vessels, which then causes damage to the tissues, presenting as pain, tenderness and in some cases itching.

By using electricity as an analogy;

When walking into a room, your knowledge is that the electricity is present and upon pressing the switch, the light or electrical appliance comes on. So, with the circulation it is similar, the blood is there but the switch is faulty, consequently there is a delay in the blood getting to the peripheries. By the time the blood does get to the fingers and toes, it is often too late and the tissues under the skin have died, essentially, they have been starved.

Who gets them?

Although chilblains are common, the condition mainly affects young adults working outdoors with inadequate clothing, the elderly, people who are anaemic, some medications can cause chilblains as a side effect and those who have Raynaud’s syndrome have a predisposition to present with chilblains.

How do I know I have them?

They can be present from the autumn for some and the affected areas of the skin can often feel like it is burning or itching, which usually intensifies upon entering a warm room, sitting next to a fire, a warm bath or in bed. There may be some swelling or redness and in some cases the skin breaks down and ulcerates.

How are they treated?

The best form of treatment is to prevent them in the first place by keeping the whole of the body warm not just the extremities.

Wear layers rather than one thick layer of clothes, use natural fibres like silk or merino wool. Footwear plays a vital part in prevention with thick insulating insoles.

If the chilblains are not broken then they will benefit from some creams and lotions, like Balmosa and Akiline winter.

If the skin has started to break down and ulcerate then they will need immediate attention from the Gp or a Podiatrist.

There is a prescription medication for people who struggle yearly with chilblains and that is available from the GP.

If you need advice or treatment regarding chilblains, please contact us at the clinic on 01947 8204319.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to the Lindsey Ebbs Podiatry monthly email newsletter.