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.
Very interesting… I had no idea that chilblains were an actual medical thing, I guess I just thought it was a fancy word for being cold!
Have you tried hand warmers? I have a similar though different problem with my toes – they turn white and go numb at the slightest provocation. But I find if I warm them periodically throughout the day I do much better. Generally this just means putting my toes on Princess’ heating pad which lives under my desk – or using a microwaveable heating pads when I’m on the couch. But I’ve also taken to soaking them in warm water and it makes a HUGE difference. Don’t know if that would work for you since it sounds like the problem happens from the warming, but I sure hope you find something that helps because it doesn’t sound like much fun!
I’m just reading your story now. I’m going through a remarkably similar experience to yours right now. After years of believing that the dermatologist was correct in her diagnosis of Chilblains, today a rheumatologist diagnosed me with Psoriatic Arthritis. I am positive for some symptoms I wasn’t even aware of along with a family member with the diagnosis. However, my chief complaint is fingers on my right hand that swell in the cold damp weather. Can you give an update on your condition? Thank you.
Sorry for the delayed reply. I just wrote a long reply that WordPress ate 😦 Summary: my issues seem very connected with temperature, so I think it is not psoriatic arthritis. This winter was my best since I started having this issue. I was really proactive about keeping my hands protected and warm as soon as it started to get at all chilly. I also kept up with some vitamin and mineral supplements — not sure if that factored in or not.
Hi Melissa! I seem to be experiencing this as well. I’ve always had cold hands and feet, but this winter I just have not been able to keep my hands warm. I feel the same way as you about keeping the heat at a higher setting, even though I have a humidifier connected with the furnace.
We just recently had a fabulous snowfall and I’ve very sadly limited my outside time trying to protect my fingers. 😦
Today I will venture out with a rechargeable hand warmer and see how it goes!
I have the same problem, only my right hand. My toes too though. I get bumps that come and go that look like insect bites. Then I got red splotches on my fingers and my pointer finger swelled to the point I can’t bend it and can barely use my right hand. It “flares up” every evening making it hard to sleep. Benedryl helps the “fire” feeling. I’ve seen 4 doctors and none seem confident in what it is. Best opinion so far was dyshidrotic eczema, but I think it’s more like chilbains. Did your fingers swell? Did you have bumps?
My fingers swell at night for sure (when I’m warm and cozy under the down comforter), and now that I’m really paying attention I’m going to watch for the swelling in seasons other than Winter.
I do seem to have little tiny red spots on several fingers of my right hand (which are supposedly areas of blood vessels bursting…possibly due to Raynaud’s, which seems to fit a lot of my symptoms but I don’t have an official diagnosis), and some slightly painful red bumps on my left pinky and right 4th and pinky.
So far I find that when I work hard all day to keep my fingers from getting super duper cold (they’re always at varying degrees of cold to freezing) that helps with the swelling and bumps. I have a feeling that if I wasn’t really vigilant about this, the bumps and swelling would be worse. In fact, about 4 days ago my fingers were swollen all day (with white areas), probably because I didn’t protect them as much. I do wear super warm stuff indoors and out all the time, but I guess I need to step up my game even more!
Me too! I’ve always had Raynauds but this last year it’s been a nightmare keeping my hands warm. My right hand is worse and my pointer finger is so ugly swollen and with chilblains! I keep worrying I have scleroderma!!!! But maybe I’m not alone!
I feel like I could have written some of these comments myself! I began experiencing what I assume were chilblains in late Nov/early Dec, possibly due to poorer circulation from working from my somewhat-chilly home during the pandemic and our unusually cold/wet winter (which I admittedly did not always dress properly for back in Nov/Dec, but have since bundled up with gloves).
While I did get some red/burning toes on both feet in December, this cleared up within weeks (felt like severe rug burn at its worst, and has left some hyperpigmentation on my toes). My larger concern has been my right hand, which is still covered in tiny red spots and larger red patches closer to the nailbeds. My 4 fingers continue to flare up nightly and become hot/red/itchy when I lay under a warm blanket, as Vicky mentioned, and I wake up with stiff “sausage fingers” that subsides a bit throughout the day but are clearly still swollen. Luckily my right thumb seems mostly spared and my left hand looks completely normal.
So strange to hear others facing the same, as I’ve not seen much on chilblains/Raynaud’s affecting one side only and continuing on for so long.
My doctor has recommended autoimmune testing due to the swelling, but the appearance has me confused about whether it could just be chronic chilblains. I also have a dermatologist appt soon for possible biopsy – hoping it continues to get better into Spring. I have tested negative for COVID via PCR and antibody screening, though find it ironic this happened in the year of “COVID toes.”
Anyone have any updates?
I think I might have this 😦 recently started working in a warehouse that is as cold as a fridge, for the fruit. Only three fingers on right are swollen a bit, only the tips up to the first joint. Feel it on toes as well. I wear warm gloves but I need better ones, I spend 8hrs in there. 😦 feeling like it will never go away. I even change my gloves every 2hrs, since they kinda get some moisture. If you know of any really good warm gloves and socks, that you could recommend, I’d appreciate it.
I would be interested to hear from Melissa 7 years on if any further diagnosis evolved from this.
I’ve experienced chilblanes in winter since I was about 12 (I’m 41 now), blood tests found autoimmune markers but nothing definite. So I’ve been fortunate to have regular checkups and blood tests with a rheumatologist for most of my life. A few years ago my symptoms evolved with specific joint pain and idenfication of small psoriasis patches, and I was finally diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis (PA).
I get chilblanes almost exclusively on my right hand, like a lot of the commentors here. I still don’t know what is the relationship between PA and chilblanes, but I certainly have the nail issues of PA so perhaps some link to circulation. I found I have to be very deliberate about keeping my hands a neutral temperature. Like if I go to wash them I have to wait for the water to warm up rather than doing even a quick rinse in the cold water. I’ve just learned to put up with them though..as painful as they are.
My PA meds are doing great things for my joint pain, but have not helped my chilblanes.