If the temperatures outside are keeping you indoors this time of year, you’re not alone. I hate the cold. For the brave souls who like to venture out into the snowy weather, a few words of caution. Your toes need to be protected! Proper footwear is always a must because frostbite and chilblains are common foot injuries brought on by the cold. As usual, they are easy to avoid if we understand how they happen and what to do about it.
Many people will know frostbite, but there is a milder form of cold injury called frostnip. Just because it’s milder, doesn’t mean it still isn't uncomfortable and bad for your feet. It generally begins in the toes. The skin will turn white or flush red and feel extremely cold to the touch. In a short time, this can lead to numbness or a feeling of pins and needles. Without rewarming, frostnip will lead to frostbite. Think of it as an early warning sign and get yourself indoors where your feet can get care. Soak your feet in water, but bring the temperature up very gradually. Don’t start with hot water; you probably can’t feel if it’s too hot and scalding your feet.
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In the cold, the blood vessels nearest the skin narrow, diverting blood to the core of the body to protect the vital organs. Unfortunately, this leaves fingers, toes, and nose tips left out in the cold. Literally. Since your body is no longer trying to warm those areas, they have no defense against cold injuries. If you leave them exposed, frostbite will slowly freeze the skin and tissue underneath. In severe cases, tissue will die and need to be surgically removed. If you think you are developing frostbite, seek medical treatment immediately.
Most people know what frostnip and frostbite are and how to avoid them, but there is another type of cold injury that can occur even when it's not below freezing. Chilblains is a condition in which the feet react to cold with inflammation. This causes red patches, itching, swelling, and can be accompanied by painful blisters, called pernio. Just like nail fungus likes to grow in warm and moist socks, chilblains like to form in cold and damp socks. Frostbite can onset quickly due to freezing temperatures, but chilblains occur from long exposure to mild cold and humidity. You may not even feel it happening, but long term damage is being done to your blood vessels. Symptoms can stick around for a while without proper treatment, so get yourself to a podiatrist asap.
To prevent any cold injury there are some basic steps to follow. Keep your feet warm at all times. When going outside, wear warm socks that pull moisture away from the skin (wool is a good choice). If you don’t have a lot of body fat to keep you warm, add an extra layer of socks. Same thing if you have excessively sweaty feet. Avoid rapid temperature changes if your feet do get too cold. Never warm up your feet if there is a chance of them refreezing before reaching proper medical care.
READ MORE: Keep Your Feet Warm