Sunday, March 8, 2015

Chillblains: it is NOT an INFECTION

So I was walking the other day and realized I had an itchy/burning/stiff toe. I didn't really pay it much mind because, well, it was below freezing outside. Once I warmed up inside the house however, I realized my toe was still itchy. So I removed my socks to find:

Whoops. Swollen itchy stiff red bumps on the second toe.  

That's not normal.

Also that black toenail has nothing to do with the problem, I put activated charcoal on it and it got stained. Stuff is hard to remove...

So due to the panicked family (they were convinced I was going to LOOSE MY TOE if I didn't go to the doctor RIGHT NOW) I rushed to an after hours clinic to get it check out 24 hours after I noticed the symptom.

The doctor at the clinic told me I had an infection in my toes and that if it didn't get better with a course of antibiotics that they would need to remove my toe nail. This was because there was no lesion (no cut, bruise, etc) and it looked like the infection was just below my cuticle. The doctor told me to soak it in vinegar and keep it wrapped in addition to the oral antibiotics.

Suffice to say afterwards I was really upset. I was terrified to have my toenail removed since I had just started walking after dealing with plantar faciitis. I couldn't afford to take time off of work due to injury. Also my family was now convinced that if I had my toenail removed that it would NEVER GROW BACK. Thanks family for calming me down.

I proceeded to visit my primary care physician the following week because I wanted a different diagnosis frankly. Luckily he told me that the toenail won't need to be removed. Antibiotics should clear it right up. I felt very relieved, but still upset nonetheless since I already have sluggish digestion and I didn't want to screw it up any worse.

Whatever. I took the meds, I was in danger of loosing a toe.

In between all of the doctor's visits I was trying my best to self-treat. I wanted to get off of those meds as fast as possible. Herbal treatments can be very efficient at treating infections, so I proceeded to use these in tandem with the antibiotics.

I tried the vinegar soak, in commercial vinegar and homemade sauerkraut (sounds gross I know, but I was terrified). I tried epsom salt soaks twice a day. Warm soaks were painful and made the itching worse, so I kept them cold. I applied oregano tincture since there was a possibility it could be fungal. I tried applying activated charcoal to pull out toxins. I applied local raw honey every 3 hours in a poultice. I tried fresh oregano poultices, fresh sage poultices.

The only thing with which I saw any improvement with was a butternut tincture I made last summer. It got rid of the swelling/itching/heat. So I religiously applied the stuff. It was never not soaked in the tincture. ( I have further learned that butternut tincture is great to apply on any skin condition that feels hot. I applied it on a burn yesterday and the heat was instantly gone. )

After 2 courses of antibiotics and weeks of frustration my rash thing had only gotten worse. My primary doctor referred me to a dermatologist because he was worried it was an allergic reaction.

Unconvinced, (I think I eat a very good diet, and I know what foods I am allergic to. I have noticeable symptoms, so I avoid those things.) I followed through with the referral.

Upon visiting the dermatologist, she promptly told me she knew what I had. She left the office and returned with a textbook. She pointed to a page with a picture and said "see here, this is called chillblains". She proceeded to describe how this condition is just due to poor circulation in the toes so they get too cold and turn swollen and itchy (and they get a bit purple too). The cure she said was to warm them up.

 So all I needed to do in the end was keep my feet warm.

I don't know if I should be angry with my doctor for not knowing a textbook symptom or not. Maybe it is only in dermatology textbooks. I still left him a message with my diagnosis so he will know next time.

Sigh... I want to trust doctors I really do. This kind of thing just happens so frequently, it is hard for me to not get angry with them. I want a primary care physician that will listen to my descriptions without jumping to conclusions. But we have to learn to accept this way of treatment and its limitations, because it is not the doctor's fault, but the medical education system's faulty teaching methods.

Anyways... If you live somewhere cold and you usually have cold limbs, don't panic if you see red itchy and stiff bumps appear out of nowhere on your extremities. Just check for chillblains.

Our bodies have an amazing ability to heal themselves and if you eat a good diet and get good rest, odds are that you can recover from most conditions without additional medical intervention.