Chilblains: Symptoms, Causes & Prevention


Chilblains: Symptoms, Causes & Prevention

Winter is here – and, unfortunately, so also are chilblains. If you’re wondering what chilblains are, you’ve probably never experienced them and don’t need to worry. However, if the cold weather has resulted in your skin developing itchy swellings on your toes and fingers, you’ve probably got chilblains.  

What causes chilblains?

Chilblains are caused by a combination of cold weather and poor circulation. In the cold weather, our blood vessels constrict to conserve body heat. This constriction can starve your extremities (toes, fingers and earlobes) of blood and warmth, if your circulation is sluggish. The elderly, people who are sedentary, and underweight individuals are more at risk. Chilblains rarely cause permanent damage to your tissues but they can be quite painful. 

Common symptoms include:

  • a burning, itching sensation on the skin
  • red, blue or white swollen patches
  • dry skin which may split or crack
  • ulcers, in extreme cases

Chilblains are exacerbated with sudden temperature changes. For instance, if you go from sitting in front of a heater/ fireplace to going outdoors in winter. Although it seems natural to want to crank up the heat in your home or car, or use a hot water bottle when it’s freezing, try not to do this too quickly. It is better to warm your whole body slowly and gradually instead.

How to treat chilblains at home

  • Resist the urge to scratch – this makes the problem worse
  • Use a soothing lotion such as calamine or witch hazel. Speak to your pharmacist for an over-the-counter lotion 
  • Products containing Lanolin help retain body heat
  • Wear woollen or cotton socks – make sure to change and wash them daily
  • Keep your whole body warm, especially your extremities. Wear socks, gloves and beanies in winter
  • Exercise regularly to improve circulation

Chilblains usually clear up on their own within a few weeks, although it may recur every time it’s winter, so it’s better to prevent them from recurring. 

How to prevent chilblains

  • Avoid prolonged exposure to cold weather
  • Instead of one bulky item of clothing, layer your clothing to trap body heat more efficiently 
  • Wear shoes that are comfortable since tight shoes can reduce circulation to the toes
  • Dry feet thoroughly after showering 
  • Use woollen or cotton socks to allow your feet to breathe
  • Make sure you exercise daily – at least 30 minutes of activity is needed to improve peripheral circulation

Get professional help 

If your chilblains are too painful and result in ulceration, you need to seek professional help. Our podiatrists can treat your chilblains and offer advice on prevention. If you have a pre-existing health condition like diabetes, it is very important that they check your circulation in the affected area.

Call our clinics:

  • Bondi Junction: 9386 5400
  • Barangaroo (BOSIC): 8599 9811
  • St Ives: 9440 4600