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  • Writer's pictureMy Family Podiatry

Cold, Red and Itching Toes? It Could Be Chilblains.

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Chilblains (or Perniosis) are more commonly seen in the colder climates of Australia’s southern states, however the recent cold weather in Brisbane has been producing cases.

What are Chilblains?

Chilblains present as a red, blue or purple rash, with swelling, blistering and intense itching. These lesions are in response to cold exposure where the small blood vessels constrict, decreasing blood flow before relaxing and dilating with reheating. This causes fluid leakage into the surrounding tissue and an inflammatory response (redness, swelling, and pain).

In the lower limbs, chilblains affect the tips of the toes, heels, or areas of friction but also can occur in the upper body (such as the tips of your fingers, ears, or nose).

Cartoon image of red toes indicating Chilblains
The red appearance chilblains can cause on toes

Who gets Chilblains?

Both children and adults can develop chilblains with females more commonly affected than males. Other risk factors include:

  • People with a lower body mass.

  • People who have a history of smoking.

  • People with conditions like Lupus or Raynaud’s.

Managing Chilblains:

We recommend a thorough examination and assessment by our Podiatrists in the clinic to confirm a diagnosis of chilblains however there are some general steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing chilblains. These include:

  1. Avoiding extreme temperature changes - the rapid heating from the cold can bring on chilblains. Instead, warm your feet gradually by layering. Wearing the right socks and enclosed footwear/slippers will safely insulate and protect your feet.

  2. Avoiding directly heating the feet - Heating the feet with hot water soaks, hot water bottles, electrical heating products, or fireplaces can cause burns unintentionally if the nerve functioning of the feet is impaired.

  3. Do not scratch - This can be difficult as chilblains can be itchy! Scratching can break the skin and create a route by which infections can enter which may require antibiotics to treat.

  4. Avoiding tight footwear, socks, and stockings can contribute to the development of chilblains.

You can also work to improve your foot health by:

  1. Regularly checking your feet for any changes to the skin and nails - If this is difficult to do yourself, our Podiatrists can assist with the routine care and assessment of your feet. This is especially important for those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes.

  2. If you are a current smoker, take steps to quit smoking. It is recommended to discuss your options with your general practitioner (GP) and local pharmacist who can assist you if you’re trying to quit.

  3. Keeping active through regular cardiovascular exercise.

After an assessment in our clinic, your podiatrist may recommend:

  • Indoor & outdoor footwear options to keep your feet well insulated against the cold;

  • Insulating insoles;

  • Wool-based socks or toe socks; and

  • Topical creams or oral medications can assist in symptom relief from your chilblains.

With appropriate management, your chilblains should resolve within a few weeks. Leaving your chilblains untreated or repeatedly exposing your feet to cooler temperatures can lead to chronic chilblains and even ulceration.

We recommend an appointment with our podiatrists at My Family Podiatry for a thorough history, examination, and assessment of any symptoms or foot pain you may be experiencing. Contact the clinic at (07) 3088 6116 or use the button below to book today.

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