Chilblains? Here are three things you can do

Chilblains? Here are three things you can do

If you have never had chilblains before, here are two words to describe what it is like to have chilblains: SUPER ITCHY. I know because I have had way too many episodes of chilblains myself. I still remember the first time it happened – my toes were swollen and red with an unstoppable itch, and me going slightly crazy. So, what are chilblains, and what can you do about them?

What are chilblains?

Chilblains used to be a more common phenomenon in winter back in the days when central heating and reverse cycle air conditioning did not exist. Chilblains were also more prevalent in people who worked at a damp environment where their feet might get wet for an extended period of time.

However, chilblains are still a real problem battled by some (e.g. me). Chilblains occur when the blood vessels in our skin are too sensitive to temperature changes. When our feet become cold, the small blood vessels in our toes become smaller. This causes a restriction of blood flow to our toes. The moment our feet get warm, these same blood vessels dilate rapidly, causing a huge volume of blood flooding to our toes. As a result, the skin stretches, and the toes become swollen, warm and red. Ultimately, these changes lead to an intolerable itch in the toes.  

Chilblains on toes. They look like red, raised bumps.
I could have used a picture of my own feet, except I actually am chilblains-free at the moment (woohoo!).

Unfortunately, you can’t really treat chilblains. The best that we can do is prevention and symptom management when the enemy strikes. Once you have developed chilblains, it is highly likely for chilblains to recur whenever you are in a cold environment. So, I decided to share a few things I have learned and applied myself in my battle against chilblains. Keep reading to find out what they are!

#1: Wear thicker socks

Wearing thicker socks has two advantages – better heat insulation and sweat absorption. You may not think about it, but our feet still sweat even when the weather is cold. Because of that, thin socks tend to get damp during the day, making your toes cold instead of keeping them warm. Thinner materials also allow heat to escape faster, leaving you with cold feet. For this exact reason, socks that are very porous e.g. stockings are probably one of the worst things for chilblains-afflicted toes.

Thicker socks - socks that are padded around the toes can keep the toes warmer.
This is what I wear personally. I have found these running socks to be the best for my sensitive toes. The extra material around the toes helps keep the toes drier and warmer while keeping rubbing minimal. Since Perth’s winter is not that cold, I find these to be quite sufficient.

What about woollen socks you ask? While wool, as a material, can offer quite good heat insulation, woollen socks often have a lot of small gaps in them. Cold air can get in and heat can get out. Personally, I have found woollen socks to be an aggravating factor of my chilblains episodes.

#2: Don’t warm your toes with a hairdryer

You may feel good temporarily, but it will make your chilblains flare up like no tomorrow. How do I know? Well, I have tried it, and would not ever again let this thought cross my mind! Whenever you warm up your feet too rapidly, the blood vessels get out of control. Remember: blood vessels that dilate quickly = chilblains. So, if your feet are cold, try moving around and doing some gentle exercises. This way, you are warming up your entire body instead of just your feet. Your toes will be happier, too.

Keep your hairdryer to your hair!
Let’s just let our hairdryer do one job – to dry our hair instead of warming our toes.

#3: Avoid wearing wet shoes

No one wears wet shoes deliberately, but with winter often coupled with rainy weather, our shoes can get wet during the day against our own will. If your shoes can potentially get wet from the rain on the way to work, for example, then it is a good idea to always have a spared pair of shoes AND socks at the office for you to change into later. Keeping your feet dry is crucial when it comes to preventing chilblains. Remember: wet feet = cold feet = chilblains!

Dry your feet immediately when they get wet!
Dry your feet immediately and thoroughly with a towel if they get wet. The same applies to after-shower. Don’t let your toes “air dry”.

So, those are the three tips I have from my own personal battle against chilblains. Chilblains are really no fun. They strike when you least expect it (real sneaky I tell you!). So, I hope these tips would help you, or someone you know, find some comfort this winter! 

If you are new to our blog, welcome! Don’t forget to check out our winter foot care tips. While travelling may seem like a thing of the past, we can always dream about the day we can hop on a plane to see the world again! Find out what a podiatrist’s travel essentials are, and create a mental list for your next trip.

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