With the onset of winter, now is the time when we step outside and our toes are exposed to the cold weather. The effect for a minority of people can be the development of small, mauve itchy patches on our toes - chilblains. Although rarely a problem for which we need medical attention they can be frustratingly itchy and painful for a few weeks every year.
What are they?
Chilblains (medically termed erythema pernio) are small purple areas that develop on areas of skin exposed to the cold - most often the toes but also the fingers, and occasionally the ears and nose. Normally when we go outside the capillaries in our skin constrict to prevent us getting too cold. Chilblains develop when these capillaries remain closed even when we go back indoors and start to warm up. The capillaries remain tightly shut and so locally the skin becomes starved of oxygen creating these itchy areas.
Why do they develop?
The reason why the body responds in this way is unknown, but interestingly chilblains only develop in cold, damp environments. The UK is one of the few climates in the world which has this - even in some much colder climates chilblains are a rare occurrence as the humidity is much lower.
Who gets them?
Anyone can develop these but they are more common in those with a family history of chilblains, poor circulation and those with a low body weight or anaemia. Young adults and the elderly, particularly those who spend a lot of time outside or in draughty areas are most at risk.
Can you prevent them?
Yes. The most simple advice is to protect your feet and toes from extreme changes in temperature - keeping them warm at all time when out and about. So plenty of activity to keep the toes moving. In addition multiple layers are best - two pairs of socks, thermal lined shoes. Tight shoes can constrict circulation and so are best avoided. Try not to wear leather soled shoes as these conduct heat away from your feet. A shoe with a good thick, synthetic sole is best to keep the heat in your feet. Regular hot drinks and generally keeping warm can also help prevent them.
Don't toast your toes when coming in from the cold and avoid hot showers and baths when you are just warming up. Simple massage of the feet can help restore circulation to chilly toes.
If you require any advice, please make an appointment with one of our team and we will be happy to help.