Low temperatures, chilly floors and icy ground can make our extremities feel cold, frozen and even numb. At these times, all we want to do is find warmth in a piping hot shower, hot tap, electric blanket, hot water bottle or heater.
However, we’re doing ourselves more harm than good. It’s this cooling, followed by rapid heating that can cause chilblains.
As a teenager I had terrible chilblains from standing on concrete floors in thin plimsoles. The suggested remedy was ‘Old School’. I was presented with a bowl, told to wee in it and then dip my toes in… I was 15 at the time and horrified by the idea. Especially as the bowl was presented to me by my ‘mature’ manageress, whilst at work on a Saturday morning in my local bakery shop... how times have changed!!
What are chilblains?
Chilblains (also called erythema pernio) are small itchy, red (and sometimes blue to purple) swellings on the skin, which can be very painful. They are the result of two actions. Firstly, a response to severe cold when capillaries in our toes, fingers, nose and ears constrict to keep the warm blood away from the skin, where heat is quickly lost. If we then warm up the cold regions too quickly – like putting our feet in hot water or on a piping hot radiator, it can lead to leakage of fluid and blood into the peripheral tissue, leading to chilblains. The congestion of fluid and blood in the tissue can cause redness, irritation, heat (inflammation) and itching. In extreme cases, the area can break down into small ulcers and infections.
Who is more likely to get chilblains?
- People who smoke
- People with connective tissue disorders (for example Lupus)
- People who suffer from Raynauds Syndrome
- People with a family history of chilblains
- People with poor circulation such as those are living with Diabetes
- People on vasoconstrictive medications or certain antidepressants
- Those who enjoy the outdoors, but neglect to keep their hands and feet warm and dry
- Women and children are generally more affected
How to avoid chilblains
These are the steps you can to take to try and prevent chilblains happening to you:
- Keep feet and hands warm at all times. Wear gloves, hat, thermals, wool or cotton socks and waterproof footwear. Use slippers indoors.
- If your hands and feet are cold, it is important to warm them up slowly.
- Dryness triggers chilblains. Moisturise vulnerable areas regularly using a warming balm to stimulate peripheral circulation.
- Consider adding warming foods to your diet such as chilli, garlic and ginger and take natural remedies to help maintain a healthy peripheral circulation – such as fish oils, vitamins, gingko, bilberry asnd hawthorn.
- Heat packs onto the kidney region and around the ankles or in the shoes can be very helpful, as can wool innersoles.
- Bed socks and a warming foot balm are a must to ward off the chilblain season!
- Stop smoking and reduce alcohol intake.
You have chilblains already?
- Gently warm the area affected and keep it at a comfortable room temperature
- Massage gently with a mild warming balm if skin isn’t broken (Try our Pippettes Farm Spice Balm)
- If itching and very red; try Calamine lotion or Witch Hazel water.
- If the skin is broken, use Calendula oil or our 24 Seven balm to soothe and heal.
- To prevent infection and reduce itching and stinging, try using Aloe vera gel, ideally in a blend with tea tree essential oil e.g. our Antiseptic Healing Gel
Once you have had chilblains, they are more likely to reoccur.
To keep them at bay it’s best to be prepared early.
Remedy suggestions from my clinic and made at Pippettes Farm:
Spice Balm- a blend of Hypericum, Calendula, Peppermint, Oregano, Thyme, Ginger, Black Pepper and Cajeput gel
will keep the circulation flowing and form a protective barrier
Antiseptic Healing Gel https://pippettes.co.uk/products/antiseptic-healing-gel-50ml?_pos=2&_sid=fec2c5fe9&_ss=r A soothing and cleansing mix of Aloe vera, Seaweed extract, Calendula and Myrhh to soothe the itch and reduce redness
Remedies on your doorstep
Nature provides us with the herbs to heal at the time we need them. Currently, in December, we still have Calendula, Sage and Rosemary growing healthily in our smallholding and their presence is the seasonal clue to their healing qualities.
These have a potent healing, moisturising and anti inflammatory action. They are gentle enough to use directly on cracked, broken skin in a balm, oil or infused water soak.
Taking rosemary in cooking, as a tea, tincture or topically in an ointment can help improve your peripheral circulation. Whilst Gingko biloba is an excellent alternative, I recommend you use the native herb on your doorstep.
The strong antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory qualities can cleanse, soothe and assist recovery . Try picking some fresh leaves and make an infusion (tea). Once cooled to warm soak inflamed area or add to a foot bath with some epsom salts.
This article is for educational purposes only and not to be used for diagnosis or treatment. Always consult your health practitioner.