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Chilblains - Cold Weather Woes For Fingers and Toes

General, exercise | July 23, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

Circulatory system

Chilblains - Cold Weather Woes For Fingers and Toes

People who experience chilblains often dread cold weather. On exposure to the cold, extremities such as the toes or fingers can swell and become inflamed. Chilblains usually clear up on their own within one to three weeks—especially if the weather warms up. The best approach is to limit your exposure to cold, dress warmly and cover exposed skin. There are some natural therapies to support healthy circulation.

Blood vessel responses to temperature

The body’s circulatory system consists of a network of blood vessels such as arteries, veins and capillaries. They are important in transporting blood to every cell in the body. In hot weather the blood vessels close to the skin expand to cool the body. In colder weather, the blood vessels constrict to conserve body heat.

What exactly are chilblains?

Chilblains are patches of red, swollen and itchy skin that usually occur on the toes, fingers, nose and earlobes.

What exactly are chilblains?Sometimes the skin can blister and lead to infection or an ulcer if left untreated.

In response to repeated exposure to cold air or sudden changes in temperature the small blood vessels in the extremities can constrict and restrict blood flow. As the skin re-warms there is some leakage of fluid from the blood vessels into the surrounding tissues. This leads to the characteristic swelling and redness of the skin in chilblains.

The exact cause of chilblains remains unknown. However, a sensitivity to temperature changes and sluggish circulation are main factors thought to be involved.

Symptoms of chilblains

Some common signs and symptom of chilblains include:

  • Small, itchy areas of red skin, often appearing on the fingers or toes
  • Burning sensation on the skin
  • Swelling and inflammation
  • Changes in skin colour from red to dark blue
  • Dry skin leading to splits and cracks
  • In severe cases, infection and skin ulcers

Who gets chilblains?

People of any age can get chilblains. They tend to be more common in the elderly and in women.  Other factors which increase your risk of chilblains include:

How to prevent chilblains

If you are prone to chilblains in the cooler months you can try to prevent them by doing the following:

Stay warm

When outdoors keep your hands and feet warm and covered with gloves and thick socks. If chilblains affect your face, wear a scarf and beanie. Wear layers of loose, comfortable clothing and avoid getting wet. After being outdoors in the cold, warm the entire body gently by keeping your house at a comfortable temperature. Avoid using a hot water bottle, sitting too close to a heater or wrapping your hands around a hot mug.

Quit smoking

If you smoke cigarettes this can damage your heart and blood vessels—decreasing circulation. This can cause or worsen chilblains by contributing to poor blood vessel health and starving your extremities of blood.

Exercise

How to prevent chilblainsRegular activity and cardiovascular exercises are a great way to strengthen the heart and circulatory system.

Allow time each day for any activity you enjoy such as cycling, walking, swimming or playing a team sport.

If you have chilblains choose an exercise that is gentle, so as to not worsen the symptoms.

Creams

If your fingers or toes are inflamed, itchy and sore, try applying a cream or nutritive oil to reduce pain and inflammation. Certain herbal creams contain properties which help to reduce infection and speed up skin healing. Certain examples of creams you can try include:

Vitamin E—vitamin E is an important nutrient for blood vessel and skin health. It acts as an antioxidant and protects the skin from dryness and damage.

Licorice—a natural anti-inflammatory, licorice is effective if the skin is very irritated, dry and chaffed.

Witch hazel—particularly helpful if the skin is really itchy and inflamed.

Nettle—this herb is indicated if the skin is itchy, red and irritated.

Calendula—traditionally used for skin sores, irritation and mild infections.

Circulatory support

Although natural therapies have not been tested for their efficacy in chilblains, there are plenty of things which have been helpful for similar conditions to enhance blood flow and improve circulation. Here are some suggestions of things you could try if you are susceptible to chilblains.

Ginger

A popular culinary spice, ginger enhances circulation and reduces inflammation. Characterized in traditional Chinese medicine as spicy and hot, ginger is claimed to warm the body and treat cold extremities. Try adding to foods or supplementing with ginger tablets in the cooler months.
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Chili

How to prevent chilblainsCayenne or chili is a small shrub that is indigenous to Central America. The fruit and seeds from this plant are renowned for being able to enhance circulation to the peripheries and reduce inflammation by blocking the effects of substance P in the body. Chili can be easily added to the diet to improve blood flow. If the skin isn’t broken a cream containing capsaicin could be applied to the hands to improve circulation.

Fish oil

Rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, fish oil helps to support healthy circulation and blood vessel health. Numerous studies have identified that omega-3 reduces inflammation and supports healthy skin. Omega-3 is found in foods such as chia seeds, linseeds, nuts, fish and seafood. It is common for omega-3 to be lacking in the diet and supplementing may help to correct a nutritional deficiency.
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The bottom line

If you suffer from chilblains, seek advice from a medical doctor to rule out any other underlying reason. The best way to avoid chilblains is to keep warm while outdoors and keep your skin covered. If the problem is ongoing consider taking nutraceuticals to enhance circulation and apply an herbal cream for topical relief.

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References

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/chilblains

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chilblains/symptoms-causes/syc-20351097

Mills, S., & Bone, K. (2000). Principles and practice of phytotherapy: modern herbal medicine. Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone.

Souwer IHLagro-Janssen AL. Chronic chilblains. BMJ. 2011 Jun 7;342:d2708

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21652748

Zingiber officinale (ginger). Monograph. Altern Med Rev. 2003 Aug;8(3):331-5

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12946242

Schiano V, et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid in peripheral arterial disease: effect on lipid pattern, disease severity, inflammation profile, and endothelial function. Clin Nutr. 2008 Apr;27(2):241-7

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18237823

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