Chilblains are a mild form of frostbite. When exposed to severe cold for long periods, the body hoards heat to keep the vital organs functioning by reducing blood circulation to the extremities. This leaves the nose, ear lobes, fingers, toes and even the penis vulnerable to chilblains.
- Affected bits initially redden, tingle or ache.
- Swelling and inflammation occurs.
- Chilblains are intensely itchy.
- Sores and blisters occur when things are bad.
- Severe chilblains can cause permanent damage to blood vessels, nerves and skin.
What causes it?
- Jack Frost, icy-cold and blizzard-like weather conditions.
- Genetics play a role, poor circulation runs in families.
- Raynaud’s syndrome is a condition where circulation is reduced to fingers, toes and, sometimes, nipples occurs. - Whenever there is limited blood flow, chilblains are more likely to occur.
- Thin people suffer more than more comfortably padded individuals.
- Sudden changes of extremes of temperature, from cold outside to very warm inside.
What to do
The treatments given below are also recommended if you are generally prone to poor circulation. If you have suffered from chilblains in the past, don’t wait for them to happen before beginning treatment. Start early, a month before the first cold snap.
- Be generous with circulation-enhancing spices and herbs in your meals including chilli, ginger, garlic, onion, horseradish, thyme and turmeric.
- Legumes such as kidney and lima beans and the root vegetables are warming and good for the circulation.
- Eat more baked, stewed and slow-cooked meals rather than raw food and salads. Energetically, baking and cooking food for hours has a grounding and warming effect. Salads and cold foods are lighter and cooler, better for summer and an overactive circulation.
- Avoid cold drinks; drink them at room temperature or warmer.
- Avoid alcohol; you may feel warmed up, but it is a dangerous illusion. Peripheral circulation diminishes, leaving your fingers and toes at risk.
- Bayberry, ginkgo biloba, bilberry, horse chestnut, prickly ash, nettle, ginger, garlic and chilli are all herbs (and foods) that improve circulation. Take a combination in tablet, tincture or tea form twice daily for a month before and during the cold season.
- Rutin, quercetin and resveratrol as well as good old Vitamin C are important for maintaining the strength of blood vessel walls and improving circulation. If you are a cold fish, take these all year long.
- Vitamin E improves circulation, 500iu daily.
- If chilblains have broken into open sores, apply some calendula cream.
- Curtail your smoking as nicotine causes constriction to small blood vessels, further decreasing circulation.
- Avoid extremes of temperature, rug up before you go outside. When coming inside from the cold, don’t toast your hands in front of the fire or heater immediately; wait until you have warmed up a little.
- Wear a hat or beanie; one-third of our body heat is lost from the head.
- Avoid wearing tight shoes, no matter how fashionable, as they restrict circulation.
- If you live near the beach, take a dip in the ocean every day, winter and summer. Be brave. Long term this will improve your circulation.
- Take warm footbaths and hand baths with ginger or thyme. Put 6 to 7 sprigs of fresh thyme and a few drops of thyme oil, or a handful of grated ginger tied in a sock or stocking, into a basin or foot-sized bucket. Don’t put frozen hands or feet straight into hot water; shake them around first, to get the blood flowing.
- The colour red is warming, and is always in fashion.
- For fans of exploring the mind/body connection of ailments, the blood represents emotions. As chilblains are a condition where the blood flow is inhibited, the questions to pose are ‘Are your emotions in danger of shutting down? Would it be helpful to speak and reveal more of your inner world?’
- Belly breathing switches on the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS governs the peripheral circulation. Belly (abdominal or diaphragmatic) breathing is the way we were meant to breathe. Initially, lie on your bed with a pillow beneath your head and knees. Place your hands palm down on your lower belly. Breathe in through your nose, counting slowly to three or four. Feel your tummy rise with the breath. Breathe out just as slowly, allowing the belly to drop. Once you feel comfortable with this, progress to doing this seated, and eventually you will be able to belly breathe all the time. The way nature intended.
- Exercise is an excellent way to improve circulation. However, male cyclists and runners should wear an extra pair of shorts or thermal underpants to prevent penile chilblains or frostbite – a condition seldom talked about.
- 3 drops of marjoram sweet has warming properties making it an excellent choice in treating chilblains,
- 4 drops of kunzea – analgesic, anti-inflammatory.
- 3 drops of black pepper – stimulates circulation, detoxifies.
- 4 drops of lemon – stimulates circulation, diuretic, detoxifying, tonifying.
6 to 8 drops in a foot/hand bath using125 g Epsom salts or 6 to 8 drops in a bowl of warm water and use a s a warm compress. Blend into 20 g unscented vitamin E cream with calendula or arnica and rubbed into the affected area. As a general body massage to improve circulation.
At a glance
- Foods that improve circulation and warm the body include chilli, ginger, thyme, garlic, turmeric and horseradish
- Steer clear of salads and raw cold foods; favouring casseroles and baked meals which are more warming.
- Herbs that improve circulation include prickly ash, ginkgo biloba, chilli, garlic, bayberry, bilberry, horse chestnut. Take in tincture, tablet or tea form. Start taking a month before and during the cold season.
- Vitamin C and the bioflavonoids rutin and quercetin.
- Vitamin E 500iu daily.
- Avoid tight fitting clothes and shoes that inhibit circulation.
- Wear a warm hat as cold escapes from the head.
- Belly (diaphragmatic) breathing switches on the parasympathetic nervous system, which governs the peripheral circulation, keeping nose, fingers and toes supplied with warm blood.
- Exercise keeps the blood pumping.