What are Chilblains? Prevention & Cure

What are Chilblains?

Chilblains appear as small, itchy swellings or bumps on the skin a few hours after exposure to the cold.

Chilblains are often seen as a lower limb problem, ie affecting the toes and heels, but they can affect the other extremities (ears, fingers and nose).  They can change skin colour (often red or purple) and they may blister and cause the skin to break down which could lead to a small ulcer.

Chilblains can occur at any age but are more common in the elderly, children, people with poor circulation (Raynaud’s Syndrome), lupus sufferers , smokers and women.

Chilblains are either chronic or acute.  Chronic chilblains last for at least 5 months of the year and for at least 3 years.  Acute last for 1-2  weeks .


What Causes Chilblains?

  • Prolonged exposure to the cold and then trying to warm up too quickly, this causes the contents of the blood vessels to leak into the tissue under the skin causing a chain reaction of inflammation, swelling, itching and pain
  • Poor circulation (poorer blood supply generally in the digits hence more easily damaged by extremes in temperature)
  • Family history

How do I Prevent Chilblains?

  • Keep active
  • Layer up with warm clothes ie thermal gloves, socks, long johns
  • Avoid tight fitting shoes, boots, socks/tights which can restrict the circulation
  • Moisturise feet and hands regularly to help prevent skin drying out and cracking.  GEHWOL FUSSKRAFT RED is an exceptionally good foot cream that warms the feet with pure oils (now available from the practice)
  • Warm socks and shoes before putting them on and make sure they’re dry
  • Keep warm and be sure to keep the heating on in one room
  • Drink warm drinks to keep the body warm
  • Stop smoking! Nicotine makes blood vessels constrict, leading to poor circulation
  • Avoid warming up too quickly if you’ve come in from the cold ie don’t be tempted to use hot water bottles or radiators to warm up cold digits
  • Inform your GP if you’re taking medication like beta-blockers and you’re prone to getting chilblains (certain medication constricts blood vessels)

How do I Treat Chilblains?

  • Use foam dressings to relieve pressure
  • Use an antiseptic cream daily to prevent any infection
  • Use moisturising cream daily to keep skin supple
  • If chilblains are not ulcerated/infected treat by painting with a mixture of friars balsam and weak solution of iodine (pharmacist can make this up for you)
  • See your GP if chilblains become infected or if you are diabetic

If you have any further questions relating to this topic please call us on 020 8977 3295 and speak to Trish Lucas (podiatrist) or Julie-nne Monahan (foot health care practitioner).