Seasonal swellings: Do not ignore

The condition is called chilblains — small, red or purple-blue, itchy blister-like swellings on the skin that occur after prolonged exposure to cold.

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Seasonal swellings: Do not ignore

Are you suffering from painful, itchy swollen fingers or toes? Worry not, you are one of the many who experience this occurrence in the winters, particularly on days when there is little sunshine.

The condition is called chilblains — small, red or purple-blue, itchy blister-like swellings on the skin that occur after prolonged exposure to cold.

The first sign is redness of fingertips or toes. The skin might experience a burning sensation, and if not checked at this stage, the skin turns blue and then purple, accompanied by pain.

These typically occur at the body’s extremities like toes, fingers, heels, earlobes, tip of the nose. In some cases, the swelling leads to blisters or ulcers. 

“This is the body’s reaction to extreme cold, and though a common occurrence during winters, it is often misdiagnosed and misrepresented due to which people keep suffering,” says Dr Syed Nazim Hussain, Dermatologist.

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“The peripheral parts of the body swell due to lack of blood flow which leads to constriction and then inflammation of blood vessels (a condition called vasculitis),” he says, adding that children and the aged are more prone to this condition, as they are sensitive to the cold.

Other susceptible groups are smokers, diabetics, malnourished and those with vascular diseases. “Some have a family history of chilblains. Even, extremely thin people are prone to it,” he adds.

Wearing tight shoes can also cause this condition, as it constricts the blood vessels. Recent studies link chilblains to viral infections, including C-19. 


While this condition is common in Delhi after the temperature plummets below 10 degrees, Dr Hussain informs that it is very rare at far more colder places like the US.

“This is because of the utter lack of attention people here pay to their bodies. Those living abroad take precautions prior to the onset of winter, but people here wait till the last stage to get to a doctor,” he laments.

“It is not a serious condition to begin with, but because people ignore swollen fingers and toes, it leads to blisters and ulcers, and pain,” he says. 

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  • Cover your feet, hands, and ears from the cold. Avoid tight clothing or footwear. 
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids. A nutritious diet and Vitamin C supplement will maintain the skin’s moisture content. Moisturise your hands and feet regularly to prevent drying and cracking.
  • Smoking also causes dehydration.
  • The moment you notice redness on your fingers, soak them in warm water. Doing this twice a week will reduce the swelling or inflammation, and improve blood circulation.
  • Lastly, avoid exposure to sudden temperature changes. For instance, warming your hands or feet the instant you come from outside may trigger the condition.

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