Winter Worries: Chilblains

Chilblains are small, itchy, red lesions on the skin that can become incredibly painful and dry out if left untreated. Burning and itching sensations are common symptoms that may intensify when entering a warm room. Chilblains can occur on the toes (especially the smaller ones) and on areas of the feet that are often exposed to pressure.

What causes them?

The blood vessels near the surface of the skin tighten in cold temperatures. When we warm up, sometimes the blood vessels can expand too quickly, leaking fluid into nearby tissue and resulting in swelling and pain.

Who gets chilblains?

We see a lot of patients with chilblains in winter - chilblains are the skin’s abnormal reaction to sudden cold temperatures, after all. Most people who visit the clinic with chilblains are young adults, people who work outside, elderly people, or those with poor circulation.

What should you do if you get chilblains?

  1. Don’t scratch them
  2. Use soothing lotions, such as calamine, to reduce discomfort
  3. Keep the feet warm with thick socks
  4. If the skin has broken and formed a sore, or if you’ve had symptoms for more than a week, seek podiatry advice.

How can you prevent them? 

  • The best way to prevent chilblains is to keep warm. Grab those leg warmers, thick socks, gloves and jerseys; keeping the whole body warm (not just the feet) really helps
  • Warm your feet up slowly if they get cold
  • Avoid walking around barefoot
  • Stay active to improve circulation. If you’re stuck at a desk for the day, we recommend wiggling your toes regularly
  • Visit a podiatrist for accurate diagnosis and to form a treatment and prevention plan