Chilblains - What are they and how to treat them
What are Chilblains:
Chillblains are small, itchy swellings on the skin that occur as a reaction to cold temperatures.
They most often affect the body's extremities, such as the fingers, toes, ears and nose.
Chilblains can be uncomfortable, but rarely cause any permanent damage. They normally heal within a few weeks if further exposure to the cold is avoided.
What causes chilblains?
Chilblains are the result of an abnormal reaction to the cold. They're common in the UK because damp, cold weather is usual in the winter.
Some people develop chilblains that last for several months every winter.
When the skin is cold, blood vessels near its surface get narrower. If the skin is then exposed to heat, the blood vessels become wider.
If this happens too quickly, blood vessels near the surface of the skin can't always handle the increased blood flow.
This can cause blood to leak into the surrounding tissue, which may cause the swelling and itchiness associated with chilblains.
Signs and symptoms of chilblains
Chilblains usually develop several hours after exposure to the cold. They typically cause a burning and itching sensation in the affected areas, which can become more intense if you go into a warm room.
The affected skin may also swell and turn red or dark blue.
In severe cases, the surface of the skin may break and sores or blisters can develop.
It's important not to scratch the skin as it can break easily and become infected.
To prevent chilblains:
When it is cold, dress appropriately – this includes warm footwear (shoes and socks), gloves, a hat and scarf. In other words, wear clothing that protects the feet, hands, and ears from the cold. It is possible to protect the nose by wrapping something like a scarf around part of the face.
Increase circulation – keeping active can help improve circulation.
Avoid exposure – individuals who are particularly susceptible should try to avoid exposure to cold as much as possible.
Prepare in advance – before venturing into the cold, warm up shoes and socks on the radiator.
Promote good circulation – avoid wearing particularly tight shoes as this can further restrict blood vessels.
Keep sudden temperature change to a minimum – when coming back from the cold, do not expose susceptible areas to sudden warmth (a gradual process is better).
Keep in shape – exercise at least four times a week; this helps maintain proper circulation.
Professional treatment of chilblains:
Severe, ulcerating or recurring chilblains need professional attention. A qualified podiatrist can treat your chilblains and offer advice on prevention. If you suffer from severe and recurring chilblains, your doctor may prescribe a preventive drug. If you have a pre-existing condition, such as diabetes, you must see your doctor to check the circulation in the affected area without delay.
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