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Foot Health: Do you have cold, painful feet in the winter that blister? You just may have chilblains

By Dr. Jamie Settles Carter
Special to KyForward

If the cold weather this time of year causes your feet to itch, burn and develop painful blisters, you may be suffering from a common condition called chilblains or pernio.

Often confused with but different than frostbite, chilblains can occur on your face, hands as well as feet and toes. 

Chilblains often effects those who are out in cold weather for long periods of time as well as the elderly and diabetics. Chilblains often occur with individuals who have poor circulation.

What is it?
Changing from a warm environment to a cold environment can cause people with chilblains to experience burning or itching. Intense redness to the skin, fissuring and sores may develop. This is often very painful, especially in the toes.

When your skin is exposed to the cold, tiny blood vessels in the toes and fingers get smaller (constrict) but enlarge quickly when exposed to a warmer environment. This rapid change causes a type of shock phenomenon on your skin, causing pain or itching. 

These symptoms often persist for several days or even a few weeks. The seriousness of symptoms depends on the level of hot and cold someone is exposed to as well as the duration.

Prolonged exposure to damp environments may also be a contributing factor. Ones diet and hormonal balance can also make people more vulnerable to getting Chilblains.

While chilblains can occur on its own, it can also be a manifestation of other serious medical conditions.

Getting evaluated and diagnosed by a medical professional is important if you are suffering from any of these symptoms above.

How to stop it from happening

The best way to prevent and stop chilblain from occurring is keeping your toes and fingers warm, as well as the whole body warm.

If you are diagnosed with chilblains, do not scratch any sores or blisters, this can worsen your condition. A soothing lotion such as calamine or witch hazel may help reduce any itching.

Rarely, chilblains may cause open sores of the skin. This can be a serious problem, especially in those with poor circulation and in diabetic patients.  

It is important you seek help and advice from a professional.

To help avoid getting chilblains it is best to avoid warming yourself up to quickly after being exposed to cold weather. Never immerse cold extremities in hot water.

It is important to keep your head, ears, hands, feet warm when in cold weather. Wool socks and gloves act as great insulators against the cold.

If you think you have chilblains, talk to your Podiatrist so that you can get the treatment you need.


Dr. Jamie Settles Carter is a Podiatrist and partner at Lexington Podiatry

For more Foot Health columns, click here.

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