Areas of skin that have been damaged by the cold. When the skin of a cold-sensitive man is exposed to cold and damp, the blood vessels shut up to preserve heat, causing the skin to become numb and light or pimply. When the blood vessels dilate again with heat, the skin becomes red and itchy. The resultant chilblains, due to hypersensitivity to chilly, are irritating, but they’re not serious. They generally appear on the extremities and other parts of the body where circulation is poor, like the ankles, hands and feet, and on the rear of the legs.
Consult your physician if chilblains cause an excellent deal of distress. He may prescribe a vasodilator lotion to enhance circulation.
Causes of Chilblains
Chilblains are a mild form of frostbite. ‘Hie final stage in the circulation of blood around the body is via the capillaries, minute channels that reach into the furthermost parts of the body generally the fingertips, toes and skin. In very cold conditions some of those capillaries can be damaged, which in turn reduces blood flow to that small patch of skin. The result is that a few skin cells die, the skin surface breaks and a small ulcer forms. Anyone can be affected by chilblains if their skin becomes chilled enough.
Symptoms of Chilblains
The most commonly affected sites arc fingers, toes and the nose. The initial cold injury is painless and often overlooked unless you happen to notice a small patch of white flesh.
‘There then follows intense irritation due to the release of breakdown products from the cells that have died. After a day or two a small ulcer appears as a red spot.
- Keep all the susceptible parts of your body covered up and warm in damp and chilly weather.
- Place thermal insoles in your shoes if you have problems with chilblains on your own feet.
- If you’ve been out in the cold without warm clothes and grow chilblains, dust the skin with talcum powder or corn flour to relieve the discomfort.
Treatment of Chilblains
Protection against the cold is the basic precaution – wearing gloves, thick socks and lace protectors. If you notice a white chilled area of skin warm it gently by rubbing. Established ulcers should have a smear of antiseptic cream. Drugs are available that increase blood flow to the skin, for example calcium antagonists such as nifedipine, but are used only in the most severe cases.
Aromatherapy – make up three drops of lemon oil in 10 ml of carrier oil. Massaged daily over the toes, this should aid prevention of chilblains. Other therapies to try: Western herbalism.