Sunny southern California residents don’t worry too much about getting frostbite or chilblains. In the northern climes or skiing or hiking at higher elevations, however, it can be a concern. Wind adds to the threat, as it speeds up the rate at which your skin cools. Then there are always the odd situations, too, like being trapped in a meat locker or taking someone’s dare to make skin contact with frozen metal. Your best defense is to be informed about these conditions in case you encounter the cold temperatures that bring them on.
Frostbite in Your Feet
The term refers to skin that is damaged by freezing temperatures. This occurs in stages. Frost nip, where your skin turns rosy red, looks chapped, or feels sore, is a warning sign to seek shelter or put better clothing on. If you don’t, you could experience one of the three advancing stages of frostbite:
- The early stage features skin that turns white or yellow and may tingle, sting, burn, or itch.
- The intermediate stage is marked by hard, shiny, or waxy skin, which can form clear or blood-filled blisters as it begins to thaw out.
- In the advanced stage the skin feels like ice—hard and cold. It may turn blue or black in color.
You may not feel this progression because the sensory nerves in the outer layer of your skin become damaged. That’s why it is important to take breaks when you are in very cold temps and remove your shoes and socks occasionally to check that your skin is still a healthy color.
Chilblains Equals Itchy Toes
This condition has more to do with your blood vessels than the skin itself. When your body gets too cold, it protects the crucial inner organs by narrowing the capillaries in your extremities, so the warm blood stays nearer your torso.
If you warm up too quickly, the vessels widen and blood floods the area, causing red or purple swollen skin, especially at points of friction like bunions or toe joints. The pressure can be painful, and your skin begins to itch. Once the swelling goes down and the fluids dry out, you skin can become dry and cracked, and could become infected.
Protecting Your Feet from the Cold
The best ways to prevent harm from cold or freezing temperatures is to:
- Monitor your time outdoors – Keep moving to stimulate your circulation, and take frequent breaks out of the cold to limit your exposure.
- Wear the right footwear – Moisture wicking sock liners, thermal socks over them, and breathable but waterproof shoes or boots are the best combination. You can try foot warmers as long as they don’t make your boots too tight or cut off circulation to your toes.
- Check your feet – when you come in for a break, remove your shoes and socks and check for red or pale skin, or a prickly or numb feeling.
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco use – Alcohol speeds up heat loss, and smoking constricts your blood vessels.
- Eat right and drink enough fluids – Eating before you go gives you the energy you need to stay warm, and sweet hot cocoa or tea warms your insides when you get cold.
Find Expert Care for Freezing Feet in Berkeley, CA
A mild case of chilblains can be treated at home. Make sure you don’t warm up too quickly, and use witch hazel or calamine lotion for the itchiness. Don’t scratch the fragile skin, and if it has blistered use antiseptic cream and a dressing. If it doesn’t improve in a week or two, or if you have signs of infection like redness or fever, make an appointment to see us.
For frostbite, medical attention may be recommended, even for the early stage. Start by slowly warming your toes in water that’s about 105 degrees Fahrenheit—not hotter. Don’t rub them, even if they feel itchy or tingly as the skin begins to thaw. If the skin looks yellow or waxy, feels hard or numb, starts to blister, or hurts a lot, be sure to call Yuko Miyazaki, DPM in Berkeley, CA at 510-647-3744 and let us help heal your damaged skin.