Chilblains: Cold Feet, Itchy Toes

The damaging effects of chilblainsCold weather can walk all over your foot comfort, turning your toes icy and painful. Frostbite, dry and cracking skin, and other problems leave your feet and digits aching. Another cold-weather problem that’s not as well-known is called chilblains. This skin condition can persist uncomfortably for a few weeks, leaving your toes itchy and painful.

What Is it?

Chilblains are small, itchy bumps that develop in the skin as a reaction to cold temperatures. A few hours after being exposed to the cold and as they are rewarmed, your lower limbs start to burn and feel uncomfortable. Your toes swell and itch as bumps appear. The affected areas may seem red or even dark blue. In severe cases, you might develop blisters or ulcers.

No one is quite sure why the skin sometimes reacts and creates chilblains. It seems to be trouble with the blood vessels in your toes. The small blood vessels in your digits contract and restrict blood flood near the surface of your skin to keep heat from escaping in the cold. Chilblains seem to develop when you rewarm your feet and those blood vessels relax too quickly and are unable to handle the sudden increase in blood flow. Some fluid ends up leaking into neighboring tissues, causing the swelling and the itch bumps.

How Can I Treat It?

Most of the time itchy toes with chilblains heal themselves within a couple weeks. However, you should be taking care of your toes during this time—scratching the sensitive skin could open it to infections, and blisters or ulcers need to be treated and covered. This is especially important if you have a condition that impairs your immune system, like diabetes. If the itchy bumps don’t disappear on their own after a few weeks, you may need additional care for the problem.

Our team at Podiatry Associates, P.C. will examine your toes to diagnose the chilblains and see how severe they are. Then we will work with you to alleviate any pain, prevent infections, and eliminate stubborn bumps that aren’t healing. Soothing lotions can treat the itching, burning, painful sensations in your toes. If you have blisters or other breaks in the skin, you’ll need to clean and cover them to prevent infections. Chilblains that don’t disappear on their own may need stronger medications to eliminate inflammation or directly relax your blood vessels.

Can I Prevent Chilblains?

It’s best for your toes and your comfort if you prevent chilblains in the first place. Always dress appropriately before going out into the cold. This includes wearing warm, moisture-wicking socks and appropriate boots. Avoid footwear that squeezes your feet too much, as this can limit your circulation and increase your risk for the bumps. When you return to warmth, gradually expose your toes to the warmer air, so they have time to adjust. Taking regular steps to improve your circulation, like exercising frequently, can also help.

Chilblains are uncomfortable and can increase your risk for foot infections. You have to deal with them—or better yet, prevent them—to keep your skin healthy in cold, wintery weather. Our team at Podiatry Associates, P.C. in Castle Pines, Cherry Creek in Denver, and Parker, CO, can help you take care of any and all cold-weather foot problems so your lower limbs stay healthy all year round. Make an appointment with our experts by calling (303) 805-5156 or using our online contact form.
Dr. Cynthia Oberholtzer-Classen, DPM
Founder and Owner of Podiatry Associates, PC