Chilblains are a very annoying problem. They commonly arise at the extremities of the four limbs, mostly on the back of the hands, fingers and toes, the sides of the feet, the cheeks and ears. They are characterised by a localised hard lump or swelling about the size of a broad bean which is white, red or purple blue in colour and can even blister or ulcerate. The area can feel numb, painfully swollen, and excruciatingly itchy.
Once ulcerated the pain is even worse.
In terms of Chinese medicine, people who suffer from chilblains often tend to have an aversion to cold, especially in winter when they will wear even heavier layers of clothing. They tend to perspire easily (unless the cold pathogen is stagnating in their skin in which case there will be no perspiration), their bowel motions tend to be loose. Women who suffer from chilblains often also suffer from menstrual pain.
Once winter has passed the chilblains tend to resolve.
Most sufferers will experience episodes every year, which is most distressing. Although it is not a severe disease, it is an annoying problem which is difficult to free yourself from. In Chinese medicine we believe that the cause of chilblains is the cold pathogen invading the body in winter, or the cold pathogen invading the body of an individual who was already deficient in Yang, preventing Qi and blood from flowing smoothly. Western medicine also believes that the main cause is cold temperatures causing local small arteries to contract, which leads to blood supply to the area being compromised and cells in the local tissue being starved of oxygen.
Both western and Chinese medicine recognise the intimate relationship between chilblains and “the cold pathogen”, but western medicine does not at this point have any reliable means to treat chilblains. Chinese medicine can treat chilblains by differentiating syndrome and using “yang warming, cold expelling” herbs in conjunction with “blood moving, stasis resolving” herbs.