As Jack Frost begins to spread his magic across the land, more and more people can start to develop chilblains – a common skin condition resulting from a sudden warming from cold temperatures.
While the condition often results in a painful itch and burn, it often clears up in the warmer, spring weather.
What are chilblains?
Essentially, chilblains are patches of red, itchy and swollen skin that are made worse by poor circulation.
While they are one of the mildest forms of cold injury, they can often be very painful. However, most do not cause any permanent damage.
The affected patches or bumps of skin may be small but can often connect and develop into larger red areas.
They are often discoloured and can be red, blue or white. However, they usually start off red before turning a shade of purple.
You may experience a burning sensation and the affected area may also be itchy.
Some people may also experience dry, itchy, tender skin that can lead to cracks and splits, which can be very painful.
Chilblains are a localised form of vasculitis and often affect the fingers, toes, ears and face but can also affect other parts of the body, such as the earlobes.
They generally last around seven days and then gradually go away over a week or so.
What causes chilblains?
Since not everyone who is exposed to the cold and damp can develop chilblains, it is believed to only affect those overly sensitive to changes in temperature or in weather.
The tiny blood vessels located under the skin constrict or narrow when the skin becomes cold. This results in the blood supply to these areas becoming slower.
As the skin becomes warmer, some fluid may leak from the blood vessels to the tissues, which can lead to inflammation and swelling.
Chilblains often do not occur until several hours after exposure to the cold in temperate humid areas, and often play up when the area is reheated after being exposed to the cold.
Who is the most affected?
The elderly, sedentary, teenagers and others with medical conditions such as anaemia are more likely to be affected by chilblains.
However, sometimes a familial tendency or other peripheral vascular disease caused by diabetes, hyperlipidaemia or smoking can also increase the risk.
Those with a low body weight or poor nutrition may also have a higher risk, as do those with a connective tissue disease, particularly lupus erythematosus, Raynaud phenomenon or systemic sclerosis.
Some people get recurring bouts every winter, and may want to take additional steps to look after their skin.
What can you do to prevent chilblains?
It is essential to keep your hands and feet toasty warm in order to prevent chilblains. Consider wearing woollen gloves and socks, particularly when you are outside.
Make sure your shoes fit nice and snugly. If they are too tight, you may experience more chilblains as it does not encourage blood flow.
Layer clothing on your body and make sure you keep your head and neck warm. Several loose layers may be ideal for trapping body heat.
Chilblains can be a sign of lowered circulation. To boost this, it is essential to exercise and maintain a healthy diet.
Smoking should be avoided as this can restrict blood flow and hinder circulation.
If you are sensitive to temperature changes, you may want to avoid extreme changes in temperature where possible.
You could consider warming your hands slightly before leaving the house, so you can more easily adjust to the change.
When you head back indoors, make sure you slowly let yourself warm up rather than trying to warm up quickly with hot water bottles or hot showers, as the sudden change in temperature extremes can aggravate your skin.
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Do you experience chilblains? Where is the most common place that you get them?
Do you try to treat them, and if so how, or do you leave them to go away by themselves?