Chilblains are a relatively rare condition that occurs when skin gets cold and then is warmed quickly. Due to advances in cloth and clothing design, it has become relatively easy to keep hands and feet warm. Also the majority of American homes have sufficient heating systems to prevent people from becoming cold. This means that chilblains are relatively rare in most industrialized nations, although some individuals are still prone to the disorder.
Chilblains are actually caused as much by how the blood circulates as they are caused by cold temperatures. The blood vessels near the surface of the skin are very small. As a result they respond to heat much more quickly than deeper blood vessels. The smaller vessels open up as they are warmed, while the lower blood vessels don’t open as quickly. As a result when blood rushes into the smaller vessels the vessels are wide open and they can actually break resulting in blood rushing into the tissue. This causes pain, swelling, and changes in skin color.
Chilblains also cause the skin to dry out. The skin then is susceptible to cracking. Any opening in the skin can quickly become infected and if blood flow to the area is affected already the body’s ability to fight off infection is impeded. Infection after chilblains can lead to amputations or even death if not treated. For some who suffer with existing circulatory problems like Reynaud’s phenomenon, chilblains are a common complication.
There is no way to entirely prevent chilblains. Some people are simply prone to them. Science does not yet have an explanation for this. It helps to dress warmly in cold weather and to limit exposure to the cold. Covering hands and feet is extremely helpful. Chilblains most often occur on these extremities. Also, if a person does get cold or their skin is exposed to the cold it is recommended to slowly warm up the body. On piece of advice is to never put hands or feet directly on or near to a heat source like a fire or heater.
There is no cure for chilblains once they occur, but they do need to be observed for any sign of infection. They should be covered and protected when possible. Cortisone cream can help relieve any pain and swelling that occur. Chilblains are very itchy so an anti-itch cream can also be helpful. If the pain is extreme or an infection does occur it is important to seek medical attention.
Chilblains are rare and usually not fatal. They also don’t normally have any long term affects. It is easy to take a few simple steps to help prevent chilblains, but there are some who will get chilblains every year no matter what precautions they take. They are painful and some people suffer with them whenever the weather gets cold, making winters difficult.
Dr. Tatiana Bruschay from Central Florida Foot & Ankle Center is a board certified podiatric surgeon. Dr. Tatiana Bruschay treats a wide range of podiatric needs from athletes foot to broken ankles and everything in between. Visit http://www.flfootandankle.com/ or call 862-299-4551