This post is for all the people who suffer from chilblains. If you have them, you know exactly what I am talking about. They are bad, naughty little suckers.
Chilblains are a painful, itching swelling on the skin, typically on the feet or hands, caused by poor circulation in the skin when exposed to cold. Chilblains are what I lovingly call toe devils and they are hell to live with if you get them. For those of us with circulation issues caused for whatever reason, the inability to warm the feet up, even if it is not that cold, can cause chilblains to flare up. This winter has been especially hard on my feet. The number of chilblain attacks that I have been getting have steadily increased over the years. At first I thought the redness and painful swelling on my toes was because of my socks and shoes rubbing against my skin in a funny way. When I realized the redness on my toes resembled a sort of blister and were really only occurring in the winter I turned to Google for answers. If you have never heard of chilblains, WebMD is a good resource for information on chilblains.
In my particular case, I have multiple sclerosis and a secondary condition known as Raynaud’s Phenomenon. My primary symptom with MS is weakness in my legs and muscle spasticity which has caused a sharp decline in my mobility and my ability to walk. I rely on a walker or a scooter to get around. Raynaud’s is a condition where the circulation is compromised in your hands or feet or both and therefore they are very cold to the touch, specifically in colder temperatures. Once the hands and feet are cold, it is difficult to warm them up or keep them warm. For me, this is the perfect storm in the development of chilblains so I take extra precautions once winter sets in to try and keep my feet warm, and dry. While mostly affecting toes, they can occur all over the foot. This year I have gotten them all around my feet including my heels. At the worst flare up which happened to peak on New Year’s Eve, my feet were so swollen I couldn’t even put my shoes on. It was embarrassing.
In general, chilblains are very painful and while they eventually go away on their own, it can take 2 – 3 weeks if left untreated. I have been trying to stay on top of prevention and managing the attacks, and therefore lucky that the chilblains have resolved themselves within days vs. weeks however, I was having trouble stopping them altogether. I would have an attack, it would clear and then more would pop up. I was struggling to find consistent relief. When your feet are exposed to an extreme temperature difference the chilblains can appear within hours. The fact that I have been unable to stop them was beyond aggravating as I was experiencing throbbing pain with shoes on. That was, until I found something that actually worked for me and inspired me to write this article.
Here are my top 5 ways of managing and preventing chilblains:
- Wear socks all the time. I know this sounds obvious, but if you are like me, I just love bare feet. Even if your house is warm, the temperature differential from room to room or floor to floor can cause an attack. If your feet are sensitive to cold because of poor circulation, MS, Raynaud’s or any other type of autoimmune illness, i.e. your feet feel cold, or turn reddish or purple or have a hard time getting or staying warm, wear socks. I don’t like it either but it is mandatory. My favorite brands of socks are Smart Wool and Bombas. Because I drag my feet, these socks stay in place better than most and my feet don’t sweat. Keeping the feet dry is important. My favorite style by Smart Wool is sold here on Amazon, or here on Smart Wool’s website. Both brands are worth the investment. I have had some of my Smart Wool socks for 10 years and they still look new.
- Use a lotion on your feet in the morning and at night before bed. I am in love with a chilblain and frostbite treatment called Akilwinter, which is a cream made in Monaco and available on Amazon. Yay! This has been my personal miracle. There are two types of chilblain specific creams on Amazon. I have only tried Akilwinter and thought it was worth linking Stop Frieras to try if the ingredients in Akilwinter don’t work for you. I can’t say enough nice things about Akilwinter. It has a pleasant scent, absorbs well and has left my feet looking like I have had a pedicure since I started using it. I did try many other lotions by brands such as Aveeno, Vaseline, Aquafor, and spa grade body creams. None of these offered me any relief, unfortunately. Massaging the lotion on twice daily is a must-do. Once you find a cream that works for you, do not miss an application. Massage is especially important which I do primarily at night before bed. I do not have any specific massage technique except to massage upward toward your heart. I believe that massage helps keep any swelling reduced that is due to circulation problems.
- Increase your calcium and vitamin D intake. While I eat plenty of foods with good quantities of calcium, I still take a supplement throughout the winter months to boost my calcium levels. Calcium is important as we know for strong bones and teeth but it also helps physically with muscle control and circulation. Take your calcium supplements with food and for it to be properly absorbed in the body, it should be taken with vitamin D. I take this supplement by Solgar, Calcium Citrate with Vitamin D3. It delivers 1000 mg of calcium and I take two tablets, twice per day with meals. Ensuring good calcium intake is a preventative measure for chilblains as it is shown to help with circulation. I am not a doctor, this is research I have done on my own and is something that I do to manage chilblain attacks. I am diligent about taking my daily supplements.
- Essential oils. I have a roller ball bottle that I made with 50/50 rosemary and peppermint oil and some fractionated coconut oil. I have tried other combinations (such as lemon, oregano, cypress, lavender, marjoram and tea tree oil) but found that rosemary and peppermint oil provided the best relief to inflamed toes and feet during a chilblain flare up. It works wonders to reduce the swelling and ease the pain. I use, and am partial to, Doterra oils. I use the roller ball bottle in addition to the Akilwinter cream anytime I am headed outside and my feet will be exposed to prolonged cold weather, even with good socks and shoes.
- Epsom salt baths. Super important for your body, not just feet, when you can squeeze in an epsom salt bath. It delivers some essential minerals that our bodies do not make like magnesium. You will have a hard time finding scientific studies about the benefits of epsom salt, but it has been widely used and touted for hundreds of years to relieve sore muscles and joints, swollen feet, arthritis, insomnia, skin conditions such as psoriasis and sunburn to name a few. A warm bath with epsom salts is a great way to gently warm up feet. I also use a couple drops of lavender oil.
- Bonus tip, exercise! Any kind of exercise you can do with your feet, legs or hands, whichever is affected, is beneficial to keep the blood flowing. Even stretching is a gentle way to get that blood flowing. I spend a lot of my day working from my desk. Because of this, I try to get up frequently and also bike at home most days of the week. Once I am on my feet, the discoloration of my mostly subsides. This might sound obvious, but keeping the blood moving throughout your day as best you can helps ward off long term issues, keeps the circulation flowing smoothly and also, warms you up!
It has been three weeks since my last chilblain flare up. I broke the streak this weekend, which was kind of my fault because I slacked on one part of my routine, wearing socks! The spring-like weather was a tease and I had chilblains pop up again on both feet, but it lasted one day and I was able to avoid any swelling. I just had to deal with redness, pain and itching briefly. Once I resumed my daily regimen the last few days have been nothing but happy feet.
The extent of discomfort from chilblains will vary by individual. Always check with your doctor before beginning a new treatment, although most of what I mention above are normal, natural home remedies. I have seen a vascular specialist and spoke with my medical team about my feet and for me, it is an unfortunate side effect of having MS and Raynaud’s. There are medications available for severe cases however at this time I am managing my cold feet on my own. My hope is that this article helps someone. I rarely complain about my symptoms but these chilblains are truly bothersome and I felt helpless earlier this winter when I couldn’t keep them under control. Please message me or comment below on your best ways to control these toe devils!