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What are Chilblains?

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

Winter has certainly begun... Even though we do our best to keep warm in these cooler months it is still common for our feet to feel the cold which sometimes leads to sore, tender and painful toes. If you have suffered from chilblains (Erythema Pernio) before you know exactly what we are talking about and just how painful they can be!!

What are chilblains?

Painful, itchy patches and/or blisters usually found on your hands or feet. These are due to the constriction of small blood vessels in your skin that occur in response to repeated cold exposure. Unfortunately in the colder months the body redistributes the blood flow from our hands and feet to other vital organs and body parts to keep us warm and functioning. Leaving our hands and feet colder. Researchers are still unsure as to the direct physiology that causes chilblains to appear.

Who is more likely to get chilblains?

  • Elderly or sedentary people are most susceptible to developing chilblains (However these can occur at any age)

  • Women are more commonly affected than men.

  • People who have poor circulation or have a condition that affects their circulation (Diabetes, Vasculitis or Raynaud’s Disease)

  • Smokers

  • Underweight patients

  • Family history of chilblains

  • People who are on certain medications that cause blood vessels to constrict, such as beta blockers.

  • Wear tight fitting clothing/shoes (restricting blood flow)

What are the symptoms?

  • Red, blue and or purple patches

  • Intense itching

  • Localised swelling commonly on the toes

  • Burning sensation on hands and feet despite being cold to touch

  • Blistering which could potentially lead to ulceration and or infection


Blistering can lead to ulcerations and infection. Besides being painful these infections and ulcerations can be not only limb threatening but life threatening.

How can I treat them?

  • Rewarm skin gently – do not massage, rub, or apply direct heat. DO NOT put feet into hot water or in front of a heater to warm up quickly. This will not only be painful but can cause a burn to the skin. We want to slowly warm the feet up.

  • Resist the urge to scratch, as this will further damage the skin

  • Use calamine lotion or witch hazel to soothe the itching

  • Antiseptic creams can be applied to prevent infection of broken skin

  • Application of topical medication (to dilate small blood vessels)

  • Have your medications checked by your GP

  • If chilblains are recurring, your GP may be able to prescribe a medication that assists in dilating the small blood vessels.

How can you prevent them?

  • Avoid or limit your exposure to cold this includes sleeping with bed socks

  • Woolen socks (loose-fitting so there is no restriction of blood flow)

  • Make sure your shoes, socks, and gloves are not too tight to restrict blood flow

  • Dress in layers of loose clothing and wear mittens and warm, water-resistant footwear.

  • Cover all exposed skin as completely as possible when going outside in cold weather.

  • Keep your hands, feet and face dry and warm.

  • Keep your home and workplace comfortably warm.

  • Keep core of your body warm so the blood gets distributed to your extremities (hands and feet)

  • Have your medications checked by your GP.

  • See a podiatrist for regular professional treatments.

If you have concerns about developing chilblains this winter, seek expert advice from one of our Podiatrists' at Custom Podiatry Services. All of our podiatrists' are trained professionally to help you minimise your risk of developing chilblains through expert advice, education and treatment.


- Contact Us: 7081 9805


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