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01 Apr 2010
blackmores naturopath

Blackmores

Chilblains

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Some people develop chilblains after their skin is exposed to cold or damp conditions.

Symptoms

  • Following exposure to cold or damp, patches of skin become red and swollen.
  • Pain, burning and itching sensations are felt in the area, and may persist for hours after exposure to cold temperatures.
  • The symptoms are aggravated by a sudden change in temperature, for example warming your feet in front of a radiator, or running hot water over the hands.
  • The affected skin sometimes develops blisters, ulcers or infection, and the skin may crack due to dryness.
  • The most vulnerable parts of the body are the extremities: the toes (especially the little toe), the fingers, the nose and the earlobes.
  • Chilblains usually resolve within 1-3 weeks, but may occur repeatedly in some people. They do not lead to permanent tissue damage.

Causes

The exact cause of chilblains has not been determined, but they seem to be due to a combination of cold temperatures and circulatory problems. Not everyone who’s exposed to cold conditions develops chilblains, so it appears that some people are more sensitive to temperature changes than others.

One possible explanation is that parts of the body may be deprived of the blood they need by the constriction of the blood vessels near the skin with cold temperatures (which is one of the body’s mechanisms for conserving body warmth).

Factors that increase the likelihood of developing chilblains include:

  • Wearing tight shoes that rub on or irritate the skin of the toes
  • Being sedentary
  • Health problems that affect the circulation, for example anaemia or Raynaud’s phenomenon

The elderly and teenagers are particularly susceptible, and women are more likely to be affected by chilblains than men.

Diet and lifestyle

  • Avoid being out in cold or damp weather for long periods.
  • If you have chilblains, don’t expose the affected tissue to a source of heat (such as a hot water bottle or electric heater). Instead, if you’re cold, try to warm your whole body up gradually, or use gentle massage to stimulate blood flow.
  • Don't scratch the chilblains as you may exacerbate the skin damage. Witch hazel lotion may help to relieve the itchiness.
  • Keep your legs and body warm, especially if you have poor circulation – gloves, thermal leggings and socks are all a good idea.  Choose natural fibres like cotton and wool to prevent dampness occurring and allow the skin to breathe. Use layers of lightweight clothes to trap body heat, rather than a single heavy coat. 
  • Regular gentle exercise is an important way to help maintain healthy peripheral circulation. Walking is the ideal choice for many people, but talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
  • Maintain your feet carefully. Take extra care to dry the feet after bathing. Keep your nails short and tidy and use moisturising products to keep the skin supple. Only wear shoes that are comfortable and don’t impinge on the toes. Regular visits to your podiatrist may also be beneficial.

Important notes

  • See your doctor if your chilblains are severe, recurrent or ulcerating. People with diabetes should monitor the situation especially carefully.

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Dear Fay,
Thank you for your post.
I’m so happy to hear that you found the advice above has been helpful – I’ve heard chilblains can be very uncomfortable.
Take care (and stay warm!)
All the best,
Charmaine (Blackmores naturopath)
Charmaine
Charmaine 25 Aug 2014
thank you for the above advice I have had chillblains for as long as I can remember & I am 80 this year they are the pits.
Anonymous
Anonymous 25 Aug 2014
I am a 64 year old male living in Tasmania and I suffer from Raynauds. I am an active person and still working as a nurse, weigh 74 kgs and play golf at least twice weekly as well as walking regularly. On top of the Raynauds I also suffer from feet which are constantly wet, regardless of the weather, making it impossible to keep my feet warm and thus have chilblains as well in the cold climate. I have had this problem all of my adult life but now with the Raynauds worsening it is becoming a real problem. What is happening and can anything be done to cure this?
Anonymous
Anonymous 08 May 2014
Hello Karen, thank you for bringing up a very interesting point. Chilblains are generally caused by poor circulation and lack of blood flow to the extremities, particularly in cold temperatures but can also happen in warm and humid climates, or during rapid changes in temperature. If you think this may be your case, try and increase gentle exercise and physical activity that will improve blood flow. You can also take some natural supplements and herbs that support capillary health such as gingko biloba, grape seed extract and vitamin C. If the symptoms persist or get worse, it may be useful to discuss them with your GP or healthcare practitioner. I hope this information will be helpful Karen. If you need any further help, please contact Blackmores Naturopathic Advisory Service on 1800 803 760 to speak with one of our naturopaths. Kind regards, Rosaria (Blackmores Naturopath)
Rosaria
Rosaria 16 Sep 2013
I was told many years ago i have summertime chillblains ,i always thought chillblains were from cold weather,i dont live anywhere near the cold ,is there any help please , karen
Anonymous
Anonymous 16 Sep 2013
Hi Suzanne,

Thank you for your post. I’m sorry to hear that your daughter has developed chillblains – I’ve heard they can be very uncomfortable.
I think any of the suggestions listed in the article above could be of help.

In particular I think she would benefit from keeping her extremities warm – encourage her to wear gloves, thermal leggings and socks made from natural fibres such as cotton and wool. She should be careful to avoid exposing her fingers to heat sources (especially when they are cold) such as hot water or electric heaters and aim to warm the body gradually or gently massage the area to encourage warmth and blood flow.

Taking a vitamin C and bioflavonoid product may be of help, as these nutrients can help maintain the health of the capillaries. Ginkgo has also been seen to aid peripheral circulation and may be helpful for circulatory problems.

I hope this information is of help Suzanne. If you or your daughter have any further queries please contact the Blackmores Naturopathic Advisory service on 1800-803-760, or email us at advice@blackmores.com.au

Kind regards,
Charmaine (Blackmores Naturopath)
Charmaine
Charmaine 11 Jul 2013
My daughter ,who is 30, is in the middle of renovations so her house is quite cold . She has developed chilblains on her fingers - no broken skin just red & swollen. What supplement and treatment do you suggest ? Many thanks.
Anonymous
Anonymous 11 Jul 2013
Hi Greg, it can be difficult to comment on the advice of another healthcare professional, without knowing all of your individual circumstances. It would be best to check with your healthcare professional, or you can call us on 1800 803 760 to advice adequately. Al the best, Jennifer (Blackmores naturopath)
Jennifer
Jennifer 05 Jul 2013