As the weather is now changing, so we change our footwear. Our feet are no longer on display in sandals, they tend to be hidden in winter boots and footcare is the last thing on our mind, but this should not be the case as the cold and wet conditions can have adverse effects on our feet.
The main form of defence for feet in winter is to choose appropriate hosiery and footwear. Ideally, it should be waterproof and with thicker soles to try to prevent the cold striking up and with good grip to help prevent slips and falls.
The best way to keep feet warm is to wear natural fibre socks, for example, wool. If you suffer from cold sweaty feet then wear a thin sock next to the skin with a thicker one on the top. There are also thermal insoles and thermal socks available to wear on the coldest days.
If feet do get cold chilblains can occur. They are small itchy red/purple swellings that can become increasingly painful. They then dry and the skin can crack which could lead to infection or, if over a prominent joint eg bunion or hammer toe in a tight fitting shoe, could lead to ulcerations.
They are caused by the skins abnormal reaction to extreme cold, damp or in draughty conditions. People with poor circulation or other health problems involving their blood vessels are more prone, also dietary factors and hormone imbalance can be a contributory factor. The rapid temperature change from cold to hot can also be a cause, which is why it is not advisable to put cold feet directly on to a heat source – such as a hot water bottle or too near a fire.
To cure chilblains there are rubefacient (heat producing) creams or tablets to increase the peripheral circulation – although it is doubtful as to how effective the tablets are. The trick is, as with many conditions, is prevention!
Another winter condition that is commonly seen is Raynaulds Disease/ Phenomenon. This usually affects the blood supply to fingers and toes. This may cause the areas to become white, then blue and then red, until the blood flow returns. Other symptoms are numbness, pain and pins and needles. Symptoms occur from a few minutes to a few hours. It is not normally a serious condition and can mainly be controlled by keeping warm, particularly the extremities, and also, if caused by anxiety or stress, using relaxation techniques. This type is Primary Raynaud’s. Secondary Raynaud’s can be associated with other health conditions. Mostly with autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Secondary Raynaud’s has a higher risk of complications such as ulceration, however, severe complications are rare. It is estimated that 10 million people in the UK, more commonly women, suffer from this.
As with chilblains, prevention is better than cure so please keep your whole body warm, stop smoking, avoid too much alcohol, coffee, cola and caffeine. Increasing exercise and decreasing your stress levels can also help.
Remember, look after your feet, they are the only ones you have!