After you spend time outside in the cold weather, do you notice that your feet develop small, red, swollen patches? These are called chilblains. While in most cases they're just a minor annoyance, they can sometimes lead to more serious blisters, infections and swelling. For this reason, it's important to learn a bit about the causes of chilblains so you can prevent them – and also about some treatment tactics to ensure your chilblains don't become worse.
What causes chilblains?
Chilblains develop when your feet warm up after being cold. The small blood vessels may expand more quickly than the larger blood vessels in certain areas, and this causes excess fluid in those blood vessels to leak out into the skin tissue. Several factors make you more likely to suffer from chilblains:
Tight shoes: When your shoes are too tight, blood flow is restricted, and this makes chilblains more likely. If you wear thick socks when you go outside, shoes that normally fit you may fit you too tightly. Consider purchasing shoes in a larger size for winter wear.
Bunions and hammertoe: When you have bunions or a hammertoe, the deformed area often rubs on the side of your shoe, restricting blood flow to this area and making chilblains more likely. Consider investing in orthotics or a special pad to wear in your shoe, protecting your bunions or hammertoe.
Poor circulation: If you have diabetes or another condition that impedes circulation in your feet, chilblains will be more likely. Try minimizing your time outdoors and coming in before your feet get too cold. You can also try wearing looser, yet better-insulated shoes to keep your feet warmer.
How do you treat chilblains?
If you have diabetes, chilblains can be a serious issue since your poor foot circulation puts you at risk for a serious infection. So, contact your podiatrist for treatment.
For non-diabetics, chilblains are rarely serious if they're treated properly at home. Try rubbing your feet gently to get the blood flowing. As you get the blood flowing through the area, the swelling should subside. You can also apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to help with the itching.
While your chilblains are healing, make sure you keep your feet extra clean to reduce your risk of infection. Wash your feet daily with an antibacterial soap. Always wear clean socks in your shoes, too. If you do notice any symptoms of infection (such as increased redness, painfulness, or pus) seek treatment from your podiatrist. You'll likely be prescribed an antibiotic to help fight the infection.