Chilblains: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

What are Chilblains and how do you treat them?

Chilblains (Pernio or Peniosis) are common in the cooler months of the year. Chilblains are small in size and can be blue, red or purplish in colour.  Chilblains develop on the tips of your toes and on your heels. Chilblains are known to be typically itchy, painful, swollen and tender to touch.  Chilblains can become severe if the skin breaks which can result in blisters and sores

What are common symptoms?

Common symptoms of Chilblains are:

  • Small painful itchy red bumps on your toes or feet, usually as they first present. 
  • Swelling of the skin surrounding the chilblain due to decreased blood flow as a result of poor circulation in the blood vessels of your feet
  • Burning sensation on the affected area
  • Changes in skin colour – Blue, purple or red in appearance.

Symptoms and lesions of chilblains usually last up to 1-3 weeks.

 

What causes chilblains?

The exact cause of Chilblains is unknown, however it is said to be due to a decrease in blood flow towards the foot through a method known as vasoconstriction (Blood vessels becoming narrower in size).  This then leads to slower blood flow through the body. External weather changes such as being exposed to cold air, damp and windy conditions can result in getting Chilblain lesions. 

There are also some genetic factors which may contribute to chilblain formations; these are when there is a family history of chilblains as well as genetic factors for vascular insufficiency. Other factors of chilblains include poor nutrition and a lower body weight.

Potential risk factors for Chilblains?

  • Peripheral vascular disease as it leads to reduced vascular supply to the feet 
  • Diabetes 
  • Some cancers (bone marrow or blood)
  • Low body weight
  • Malnutrition 
  • Smoking 
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Raynaud’s disease/ Phenomenon
  • Lupus
  • Autoimmune conditions

 

Who gets chilblains?

Chilblains on the feet can affect anyone, however it is most common in the elderly, children and females. 

Podiatrists find that it can be most prominent in:

  • Teenage girls due to hormonal changes
  • People who wear inappropriate clothing during the cooler months of the year
  • People with a lower BMI 
  • People with vascular disease
  • People who smoke or have a history of smoking 
  • People with auto-immune conditions
  • People who are exposed to the cold weather for work

 

How are Chilblains Diagnosed?

An assessment with one of our Podiatrists is a great place to start.   The Podiatrist will provide a thorough assessment inclusive of clients medical history and will take into consideration both social and environmental factors. After this is completed your treating podiatrist will proceed with a physical examination of the skin as well as noting the temperature of your feet.  They will check if one foot is colder than the other etc.  At first they will start with palpating your pulses in your feet to check for adequate blood flow and circulation to the toes and feet. They may do further blood flow studies if they think this is necessary which may include a small hand held machine known as a doppler to listen to the rhythm of your blood flow to your foot. Once they have completed the blood flow assessment and are happy with the circulation to the lower limbs they will move to a physical examination where they visually look at the lesion for classic signs and symptoms of a chilblain. They will also perform a capillary refill test and discuss treatment options and how to prevent chilblains moving forward. 

 

Can chilblains be prevented?

Chilblains can be prevented and there are a number of ways to minimise the risk of chilblains, this includes:

  • Avoid exposure to cold, damp environments
  • Wear woollen, bamboo or very thick socks
  • Wearing appropriate footwear during the cooler months of the year
  • Ensure feet are dried well after showers
  • Change footwear/socks if they get wet from the weather
  • Use of a hot water bottle if feet are feeling cool – ensure to use a towel or blanket over the heat bottle before placing on bare skin of the toes and feet

 

What is the treatment of chilblains?

Treatment of Chilblains can help to ensure that they do not worsen and also involves education on prevention and recurrence.

How to treat chilblains at home

Whilst we all spent more time at home this winter due to Covid-19 interestingly Podiatrists saw an increase in Chilblain cases across all age groups. 

Some good ways to prevent and treat chilblains at home are:

  • Wearing of thick socks – ideally woollen or bamboo at all times even in bed.
  • Wearing of footwear to protect from the elements e.g. slippers, ugg boots, runners or any enclosed toe shoe. 
  • Ensuring that during showering or bathing that the water isn’t boiling hot or freezing cold. 
  • Movement – continue to move whilst working, school or relaxing at home is imperative to keep the blood flowing to the feet
  • Use of Chilblain cream twice daily 

 

Where to get professional chilblain treatment

Here at Foot Centre Group we can help treat your chilblains through education, prevention and the use of different treatments. 

These treatments include

  • Paraffin wax Baths – this is a therapeutic treatment that involves dipping the foot into a heated medical grade paraffin wax. Heated paraffin wax helps Chilblain by relieving pain, increase blood flow to the affected area as well as by drawing moisture to the surface of the skin 
  • Chilblain cream (Alilhiver) helps to prevent damage to skin from cold weather. It moisturises and helps to sooth itchy chilblains. Once the chilblain has healed, our Podiatrists can remove and dry skin and help your skin feel hydrated again.

Need help with Chilblains? Call 03 9553 0044 or make an appointment HERE for an assessment with one of our team!

Foot Centre Group

 

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