Chilblains are burning red areas that occur on the end of fingers, toes and other areas of the skin that have been exposed to the cold. They generally occur a few hours after the exposure so you may not always recognise what is causing the itching and burning that usually always follows the damage from the cold.
When the extremities get cold, the blood vessels in these areas become smaller, and when the area warms up again, some of the blood is thought to ‘leak out’ into the surrounding areas causing pain, swelling and itching.
Unfortunately when a cold snap occurs, you may be unprepared for the temperature change, and not have suitable protection for the exposed areas of skin, starting the chilblain cycle.
Some people are more likely to develop chilblains, and they should prepare for the possibility of weather changes causing circulation problems, and be prepared with gloves, scarves and hats to keep them warm. This should prevent the blood vessels from tightening due to the cold, and then from rapidly opening up again, causing the damage resulting in chilblains.
Once exposed skin has chilled it is best to warm the area gradually, with warm water rather than hot, and gently rubbing or massage with simple moisturiser and emollients to prevent sudden temperature change. Remember to cover the ear lobes if out in the chilly weather, and after exposure gently rub them with a moisturiser as well.
Once a chilblain has developed, the priority is to prevent the skin from breaking and infection occurring as well. This is why it is important to prevent further exposure to the cold, so keep on covering the affected areas whenever the temperature drops rapidly, or when going outdoors in chilly weather. It may take up to ten days for chilblains to heal, so you will need to persevere with any treatment that you are advised to use.
Your community pharmacist can advise you as to how to treat chilblains, help to heal the damage and how to prevent them occurring in the future. If you have suffered from chilblains in the past then go and see your pharmacist to prevent repeated occurrences of this painful condition.