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Small, red and itchy patches on the skin are typically known as chilblains. In most cases, chilblains clear up on their own, but sometimes, a visit to the doctor may be required.
This condition occurs when you have been in the cold for a few hours. Many people first notice the patches on their fingers and toes. The skin can have a sensation of burning, or feeling itchy, and can take up to 2 to 3 weeks to clear.
Causes Of Chilblains
Chilblains only happen when your skin is cold.
When it’s cold, the small blood vessels in the fingers and toes get smaller. This change makes it harder for the blood to move around the body. When the skin warms up, and in the case of chilblains too quickly, all the blood rushes to the blood vessels, and they become enlarged again. However, this change in temperature and rush of blood to the fingers and toes causes chilblains and can make these areas become painful.
It is not known why chilblains occur when this temperature change happens, although some medical professionals have suggested that the increased blood supply leaks into nearby tissue and this results in swelling. This swelling then irritates the nerves in that area and results in a painful sensation.
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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.
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.
If an individual thinks they have skin issues, or chilblains, then speaking with a doctor is a good idea. Medical professionals can usually determine if a patient has chilblains with a physical examination. If other symptoms are present, then some tests may be required.
Chilblains usually go away within a few weeks. In most cases, as the skin starts to warm, the symptoms become less prevalent and improve over time.
For individuals where persistent itching continues, a doctor may be able to give you topical ointment, such as corticosteroid cream, to reduce the inflammation.
A doctor may also prescribe blood pressure medication to help the blood vessels open up more to prevent further occurrences.
For people that have diabetes, or poor circulation, chilblains may be more prevalent and might not heal well.
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If symptoms cause issues for more than three weeks, it is advisable to speak with a doctor.
If you experience chilblains frequently, there are some things you can do to avoid it, or reduce the symptoms, like…
…warming the chilled area slowly.
Applying direct heat like running your hands under warm water can make the condition worse, so you should warm the area slowly. Try placing a blanket over the affected area. This will gradually provide warmth without a dramatic change.
Keep the skin clean and moisturised.
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, and this will also help to alleviate any itching.
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.
Avoid caffeinated drinks. Drinks with caffeine in them can affect the blood flow to fingers and toes.
Take painkillers to ease the pain.
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 for the condition.
In cold weather, try to keep yourself warm when you go outside and wear thermal socks and gloves.
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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 chilblains there.
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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