Family doctor


Circulation Problems

CHILBLAINS-A Patient's Guide


This article outlines the causes ,prevention and treatment of this painful condition.



Chilblains are painful inflammations, usually on the toes, caused by poor circulation and extreme heat and cold.

What are chilblains?

Chilblains are red blotchy patches, usually on the toes, that may become itchy, hot and painful. They may be swollen and the skin surface may crack. In severe cases a sore or ulcer can form.

Prolonged exposure of extremities in cold conditions causes reduced blood circulation to these areas. Exposed toes and fingers or tight shoes during cold weather, followed by reheating the numbed area too quickly can result in chilblains.

Women seem to be more prone than men to chilblains.

What are the symptoms?

Painful burning or itching sensation on red patches on toes. This pain and itching follows exposure to cold and numbness to area. Chilblains are more likely to occur on weight bearing or pressure points such as bunions and clawed toes.

What is the treatment?

Keep chilblain at a warm, even temperature with wool socks or slippers. Treat a chilblain by:

  • maintaining an even temperature to feet - avoid overheating with hot baths and showers, and the direct heat of electric blankets, hot water bottles and heaters
  • keeping pressure off (i.e. ensure shoes are not too tight, with a thumbs width space to end of longest toe)
  • using a dry dressing
  • treating broken skin on chilblain with topical antibiotic cream
  • seeing family doctor or podiatrist if problem persists.

How can chilblains be prevented?

The best way to prevent chilblains is by keeping feet at a warm, even temperature to maintain good circulation. If feet become very cold, do not warm them up using direct heat such as heaters, hot water bottles, electric blankets, or hot water. Warm them slowly using warm socks and indirect heat. Keep feet well moisturised to maintain elasticity to the skin surface. To increase circulation, use menthol or eucalyptus based products such as Vicks Vapour Rub or antiflamme.



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