Chilblains - What Are They And How Do I Prevent Them This Winter?

Chilblains - What Are They And How Do I Prevent Them This Winter?

You’re outside in the cold, your fingers or toes start to feel extremely cold then numb, you go inside or start to warm up and your fingers or toes start throbbing and quickly become painful and uncomfortable - sound familiar? Well, these are the very symptoms of chilblains - except instead of lasting just minutes, their painful effects can last weeks.

chilblains in a foot
Image credit to sapp 2019 and Medical News Today for the image


When our body is exposed to cold temperatures, the natural response of our blood vessels is to constrict (narrow). This helps our body to minimise the heat lost as the blood passes through these cooler areas. When we expose ourselves to heat, our blood vessels will do the opposite - they dilate (widen). When this happens rapidly, like when we jump into a hot shower to warm up quickly after feeling freezing, damage to the blood vessels can occur, leaking blood into the surrounding tissues and causing inflammation of the vessels. This is called chilblains and they can last up to a few weeks normally - and sometimes months if the chilblains thicken.

Chilblains can be:

  • Painful and throbbing
  • Red/purple and inflamed (especially around the toes)
  • Itchy and sensitive 
  • A precursor to blistering and painful breaks in the skin if severe

Who is at risk?

While chilblains can affect anyone, children, the elderly and those with poor circulation in the extremities (hands and feet) are most often affected. There is some evidence that there is a genetic predisposition to developing chilblains, and lower body weight, hormone changes, connective tissue diseases and bone marrow disorders may also increase your likelihood.

How are chilblains treated - and can they be prevented?

Once a chilblain has developed, it is often difficult to manage as the damage has already been done. You may try creams to help with the itching and swelling, while monitoring for signs of infection and getting it treated if it arises. Avoid scratching the affected areas at all costs - you’ll only leave yourself vulnerable to further injury and prolonged healing.

Doing what you can to prevent chilblains is the best cure. Keep your feet warm and protected at all times - both inside and outside of the house. Inside, wear warm socks with slippers. Outside of the house, keep your feet warm and dry, changing your shoes as quickly as possible if your shoes become damp. If you feel yourself cooling, a hot drink can help. Staying active and walking can help with circulation and warmth. If you already have problems with your circulation, be mindful that activities like smoking can constrict your vessels further.

If your feet do become very cold - warm them up gradually. Instead of jumping feet first into an extremely hot shower, start by soaking your feet in lukewarm water, promoting a gradual increase in vessel dilation and blood flow.

And if you develop foot pain or other problems?

Come see our experienced podiatry team here at South Burnett Podiatry. Keeping people happy, healthy and active is our passion. Book your appointment online by clicking here or call us on (07) 4162 7633.