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What Are Chilblains?

When you think of chilblains, you may think that this is a condition confined to the past, pre-war, pre-central heating. Unfortunately, it is still a problem that starts to appear as the days get shorter and it gets colder.

In the UK, we, unfortunately, have the perfect conditions for causing chilblains - a cold, damp climate!

Chilblains (also known as pernio) are caused by the inflammation of the tiny capillaries (blood vessels) in your skin in response to rapid and repeated heating and cooling. This is a very painful condition that most commonly affects the tips of fingers and toes but can also affect other extremities, such as the nose.

As well as pain, it is characterised by itching, redness, swelling and blistering of the affected areas. In particularly bad cases, sometimes, these areas can break down, leading to minor wounds or ulcerations. Some people get them as a one-off, but some struggle with repeated chilblains each winter.

If you are diabetic or immunocompromised, it is very important to prevent chilblains, but if they do happen, catching them early and visiting a podiatrist gives you the best chance of healing.

It's not only exposure to the cold that causes chilblains. Rapid reheating of cold extremities is a cause. As the small capillaries quickly vasodilate (widen), leaking of fluid into the surrounding tissues can occur.

Prevention is better than cure, so in order to prevent chilblains from developing try:

  • Keeping your lower limbs warm by wearing layers and thermals. Choose natural fibres such as bamboo and wool, which have natural moisture-wicking properties and help to wick away sweat and keep you warm. Merino wool and alpaca wool are particularly soft, warm, and wicking. Pop into the clinic to have a look at a few of our different options. Wear a couple of pairs of socks (a liner sock and a thicker outer sock)- but make sure they are not too tight. Slightly loose is better than too tight, as tight socks could reduce your blood supply.

  • Wearing waterproof shoes and gloves to keep your fingers and toes warm and dry.

  • Keeping your feet warm and supple by applying a foot cream like the Gewohl warming balm to warm the feet and prevent dry, cracked skin.

  • Stop smoking - this reduces blood supply to the extremities as nicotine constricts the tiny blood vessels.

  • Ensuring your shoes are not too tight as areas under high pressure such as clawed toes and bunions, can be more likely to develop chilblains and may take longer to heal.

Visit a podiatrist or foot health practitioner regularly to ensure your feet are well looked after and winter ready!

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