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Chilblains

 A young lady wearing a very thick jumper. She also has gloves and a hat on. She is holding her hands to her face, as though she is very cold. The word – Chilblains – can be seen

Please note that all content on this website (including, but not limited to, copy, images, commentary, advice, tips, hints, guides, observations) is provided as an informational resource only. It is not a substitute for correct and accurate diagnosis, or recommendation, or treatment by a medical professional. Please ensure that you obtain proper guidance from your GP, or another medical professional. The information provided on this website does not create any patient-medical expert relationship and must not be used in any way as a substitute for such.

 

Chilblains, also known as pernio, is a medical condition that occurs when small blood vessels in the skin are constricted by cold weather, or other environmental triggers. This can lead to pain, inflammation, redness and itchy patches in the affected area. While there is no cure for chilblains, in most cases, chilblains clear up on their own, however, there are steps you can take to help manage the symptoms. By understanding what chilblains are and how to treat them, you can reduce your risk of developing them.

Causes Of Chilblains

One of the main causes of chilblains is exposure to cold weather. When the skin is exposed to cold temperatures for an extended period of time, the small blood vessels in the fingers and toes can constrict. This makes it difficult for the blood to circulate properly and can lead to the development of chill blains.

Another common cause of chilblains is sudden changes in temperature. If the skin is exposed to a very cold environment, and then suddenly warms up, and in the case of chilblains, too quickly, blood rushes to the blood vessels. The vessels can then become enlarged and cause inflammation. Many people first notice patches on their fingers and toes. The skin can have a sensation of burning, or feeling itchy. This can be very painful and can take several days to resolve.

Some medical professionals have suggested that the increased blood supply leaks into nearby tissue and this results in the swelling. This swelling then irritates the nerves in that area and results in a painful sensation.

There are some factors that may increase the chances of getting chilblains at different stages of your life. These include…

• having poor circulation

• weighing approximately 20% less, or more, than the healthy weight range for your height

• clothing that is too tight

• clothing that exposes the skin to cold conditions

• smoking and

• living in damp and cold conditions.

Certain medical conditions can also increase your risk of developing chill blains. These conditions include Raynaud’s disease, diabetes, and circulatory problems. If you have one of these conditions, it is important to take extra precautions when spending time in cold weather. 

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Symptoms of chilblains include a…

• burning sensation

• itchy skin

• blisters and

• sometimes, the skin on the hands and feet look shiny.

Diagnosing Chilblains

If you think you may have chilblains, it’s best to speak with a doctor. They can usually diagnose the condition with a physical examination. In some cases, they may also need to order tests if other symptoms are present.

Treating Chilblains

In most cases, chilblains will heal on their own over time, usually within a few weeks. In most cases, as the skin starts to warm, the symptoms become less prevalent and improve over time.

However, if you are experiencing persistent itching, a doctor may be able to prescribe a topical ointment, such as corticosteroid cream, to help reduce inflammation. A doctor may also prescribe blood pressure medication to help the blood vessels open up more to prevent further occurrences.

If you have diabetes, or poor circulation, you are more likely to experience recurrent chilblains, and they may not heal as well. In these cases, it is best to seek medical attention to ensure that the chill blains do not worsen.

There are a few things you can do to prevent chilblains from forming:

  • Keep your skin warm. When your skin starts to warm up, the symptoms of chilblains will usually improve.
  • Wear gloves and socks when it is cold outside to keep your hands and feet warm.
  • Avoid exposing your skin to the cold for extended periods of time.
  • Avoid standing, or sitting, in the same position for long periods of time. This can cause blood vessels to constrict and increase your risk of developing chilblains.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to help keep your circulation flowing.
  • If you have diabetes, make sure to monitor your blood sugar levels closely and follow your doctor's instructions for treatment.

 

A grey armchair next to a small table. Both pieces of furniture are in a room with light grey walls. The words – Living with the Condition – can also be seen

Photo by JZhuk on iStock

Chilblains can be a frustrating condition to live with, especially if they occur frequently. However, there are some things that can be done to help manage the symptoms, like…

  • Warming the area slowly. It is important to do this slowly, as applying direct heat and quickly can make the condition worse. Try placing a blanket over the affected area to provide gradual warmth.
  • As the skin becomes swollen and irritated, it may also be dry and itchy. Apply an unscented lotion on the area to keep it moisturised – this will also help to alleviate any itching.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks. Drinks with caffeine in them can affect the blood flow to fingers and toes.
  • Avoid massaging the area. It can be tempting to massage the area to help get the blood flowing. However, this can do more harm than good. Rubbing can increase irritation and inflammation and make it more uncomfortable.

As chilblains can be uncomfortable and painful, the NHS has highlighted that you can take paracetamol, or ibuprofen, to ease the pain. Ask your local pharmacist for the best options.

If chil blains are particularly troublesome, speak to your doctor about possible treatments. There may be medications, or other therapies that can help lessen the effects of this condition.

Ability Superstore has a number of items that can help you avoid getting chilblains, such as this handmuff, which is ideal for keeping your hands warm when out and about in cold weather. We also have a number of high quality blankets for sale, and other handy items like thermal bed socks.

Living with chilblains can require some adjustments, but with patience and care, it is possible to manage the symptoms and lead a normal, healthy life.

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While chilblains is a common condition, some other causes of this ailment may affect your health. One condition is Raynaud’s, which affects the blood supply to the extremities. The leading causes of this are stress and temperature changes.

For anyone living with Raynaud’s, Scleroderma & Raynaud’s UK is a charity organisation that is dedicated to supporting and improving the lives of people affected by both conditions. They also have an informative resource on chil blains there

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Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Medical terms are often baffling and difficult to fully understand. To help, we have listed some frequently used terms below.

• Blood pressure – the measure of force used by the heart to pump blood around the body

• Circulation – the movement of fluid throughout the body in a regular, or circuitous course

• Corticosteroids – a class of drugs that lowers inflammation in the body

• Diabetes mellitus – the Latin name for diabetes Type 1 – a condition when the body cannot produce insulin which is required to control blood glucose levels

• Inflammation – the process by which the body fights against things that can harm it, such as infections, injuries and toxins

• Raynaud’s disease – a condition caused by poor circulation in the fingers

• Topical – when medical treatment is applied to a localised area of the body