Let’s start with a little word association game. What words (or images) pop into your head when I say “chilblains?”
Anyone else think Charles Dickens novels or Victorian times? That’s what popped into my head back in November when Matthew posited that my psoriasis was, in fact, chilblains.
For a bit of back story, I’ve had something wrong with the fingers on my right hand for three winters in a row now: red, scaly, itchy skin and blisters. This started in 2013, the winter I was unemployed and home with Gabriel (the timeline will be important later), reoccurred last winter, and is back for more fun this year. In 2013, a dermatologist diagnosed the issue as eczema, wrote a prescription for topical steroids, and sent me on my way. The steroid cream had little effect, and the issue cleared up in April, when the cold temperatures ceased.
Same story last year, except I skipped the dermatologist and changed my diagnosis to arthritic psoriasis, based on the joint pain I was experiencing in the affected fingers.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease and can be triggered by stress. There is evidence that people suffering from psoriasis benefit from mindfulness practice (in conjunction with light therapy), and so, while I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much, I was hoping that my fingers would benefit from my mindfulness practice this winter.
My hopes were dashed when we had the very intense cold-snap in early- to mid-November. Almost immediately, I started seeing the first signs of trouble on my fingers. Not only had the problem returned, it was starting months earlier than before.
At that point, we started questioning the psoriasis diagnosis. While psoriasis can be related to weather and cold temperatures, the cold seemed to be the sole trigger for my issues. A little digging led Matthew to chilblains. Turns out that chilblains are an actual thing, not just something out of a Dickens novel, and that is most likely what is wrong with my fingers.*
This winter, I’ve kept it from getting worse by applying shea butter mixed with a bit of vegetable glycerin. Then, to keep the lotion from getting everywhere, and to keep my fingers warmer, I wear a thin cotton glove (I recommend these from CVS vs. the similar option from Walgreens, which are too small and cost twice as much, though both developed holes after just a few wash and wear cycles).
[In college, I worked in a fitness center, and there was one woman who always wore little white gloves when she worked out. This looked rather silly, and I thought white glove lady was a germophobe, or perhaps just a little odd. Now I feel bad and wish I’d had more charitable thoughts.]
While the cotton glove offers a bit of prevention and protection, the shea butter is just treating the symptoms. I’ve also been very diligent about wearing rubber gloves anytime my hand would be getting wet — dishes, general kitchen clean-up, scrubbing vegetables, cleaning the bathroom, washing my hair, doing laundry, etc. — and wearing good mittens when I’m outside.
After November’s cold snap, December was relatively mild, and, combined with my shea butter and cotton glove regimen, my fingers were in pretty good shape, and I didn’t give Matthew’s chilblains diagnosis (nor his urging that I keep the thermostat set higher during the day time) much more thought.
And then it got colder and stayed colder. And I thought back and realized that my finger problem started the first winter that I was home all day (vs. in an office), and continued the second winter when I was working from home, and continues now (still working from home). The common denominator seems to be, you guessed it — home!
Home, where I sit at the computer in 64° F temperatures every day (sometimes I get crazy and turn it up to 66° F for a bit). Sixty-four is not bad if you’re up and moving around, but for just sitting, even wearing relatively warm clothes, it’s pretty chilly.
So I am finally, reluctantly, experimenting with somewhat higher daytime temperatures in the apartment. I don’t like the higher thermostat settings for environmental or financial reasons (this definitely goes in the “Not Green” category), but I also just don’t like the way all of that forced-air heat feels. Even running a humidifier, it feels like it’s sucking the moisture right out of me. Blech!
On the other hand, it would be nice to live without grumpy fingers, so I’m going to give the higher thermostat settings a try, at least for a few weeks. Also, although it’s hard to believe, sitting here on the coldest day of winter (so far), spring IS right around the corner, so one way or another, this should clear up relatively soon. Maybe next winter I’ll be able to head it off entirely!
*While the chilblains diagnosis fits, what I do still find odd is that this seems to affect my right hand exclusively. I’m not complaining that both hands aren’t affected, but it does seem odd that the left hand is spared.