By Dr Harsh Sharma, DHMS, BHMS
If you suffer from swelling, pain and itching of the fingers and toes of the hands and feet during the winter season, you could be suffering from chilblains. In the northern part of India, this is quite common in the months of December and January. Biting cold, rain and fog add to the intense cold and often sun is not visible for days on end at this time of the year. Such weather is particularly bad for people who suffer from this problem.
What is Chilblains
Chilblains is the response of the human body to exposure to extremely cold temperatures, although in most cases it is an abnormal response of the body to exposure to extreme cold. While most of the people are able to withstand the cold weather by wearing some extra protection, some people are unable to cope up with the low temperatures. In such persons, the capillaries or the small blood vessels that transport blood get damaged due to the cold and may bleed. The most common seat of this problem happens to be the toes of the feet and the fingers of the hands though it can also occur on the nose or even the ears. The affected parts become red and swollen. There may be intense pain in the areas so affected. Other accompanying symptoms are itching and burning of the skin. Blisters may also form on the skin. The people who are usually prone to this problem keep getting it in every winter.
Causes of Chilblains
Why some people are more prone to this while others are not at all affected is not fully understood by medical science though some things have been observed. Poor blood circulation has been known to affect the incidence of chilblains. This can cause less amount of blood flowing to the extremities in the cold weather as the small arteries constrict as a reaction to exposure to cold temperatures. This means that the blood which could have provided heat and warmth to the body parts is unable to do so. The poor blood circulation may be due to presence of anaemia which is a common thing or due to insufficient diet or due to old age itself. Another thing that has been observed and for which the reasons are poorly understood is that women are more commonly affeted. Also, thin people or those who are underweight by more than 20% are more likely to have chilblains.
Do’s and Dont’s for chilblains
Some common practices that are prevalent may be contributing to the occurrence of chilblains and they need to be avoided. A common thing is to rub one’s hands to keep them warm in the cold weather. This can further harm the blood vessels and aggravate the problem instead of alleviating it. Also, one should avoid directly radiated heat from fire or from a heater as sudden changes in temperature can also damage the blood vessels. It is better to warm one’s hands and feet by putting them in pockets or under a blanket or by wearing woollen socks. It is important that one should keep the whole body warm by wearing proper clothes. Wearing two or three layers of clothing is better than wearing a single thick layer as the heat of the body is trapped better in multiple layers. This allows the body to keep warm and the blood circulation remains good. Those prone to chilblains should avoid going out in early morning or late night and also in foggy weather. Another important thing commonly overlooked is the role of properly fitting shoes as tight fitting shoes can cause unnecessary friction and damage the already fragile skin and also impede the proper circulation of blood.
Diet has an important role to play in the prevention of this problem. Taking a healthy and balanced diet can prevent and also correct anemia in those who are anaemic. Once the anemia is corrected, the blood circulation improves and the problem gets better. Another important thing to mention here is the role of regular exercise or walk as this not only improves circulation but also strengthens the body and builds up the immunity or resistance of the body.
Role of Homeopathy in the treatment of chilblains
While the exact prescription varies from person to person depending upon the individual symptoms of the patient, the commonly used medicines that have been found to be quite helpful in the treatment of chilblains are Agaricus, Pulsatilla, Petroleum and Acid Nitricum. Here, it must be mentioned that the right homeopathic medicines not only treat chilblains but also cure the tendency, which means that the problem does not occur the next winters.