Sometimes, insight comes from the unlikeliest sources. For years I have been afflicted by chilblains (I think this is the correct term, but I am not certain) on my fingers. These little sores occur frequently in the winters, but sometimes in the summers. They develop quickly. In as little as 2 hours, little lines are etched in the tips of my fingers, usually outward from my nails, for three-eights to one-half an inch. Within another half day, the skin will pull apart along the etched line, often peeling apart layer by layer, so that the entire finger tip would be sensitive. The fissures are shallow, perhaps one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch, with a little line of blood at the bottom where the crevice appears to be forming. The chilblains last from a few days to a week or so. They disappear as quickly as they formed. Sometimes, I watch my finger tips heal, just as if I am watching a slow motion movie. They completely heal in two hours! While the cracks are not painful, they are annoying. When I write with a pen, the motion of my finger across paper pulls at the little cracks, opening them, making them bleed slightly. They are like paper cuts, providing not continual pain, but surprising me sometimes with sharp brief pain, reminding me they are still there. I use band aids to tape the fissures closed. Often, in past years, when I went to work, I would have three or four fingers taped.
I never went to a physician to seek treatment; in fact, doing so never occurred to me. I just waited them out. I had various theories about what was happening. The chilblains seem to coincide with colds and the flu and minor infections, so I assumed they are a side-effect of the illnesses. My wife's favorite explanation is that they are caused by chapping in the winter. I have my hands in water daily, washing dishes, doing laundry, keeping my hands clean so I can shake hands with co-workers. My hands dry out and chap. My wife purchased various lotions, some of them promising to heal chilblains by making the skin softer and more flexible. They never did.
Last week, I read an article about obesity around the world. The article reported that obesity in Arabia has spread quickly. Many Arab women complained of gaining weight so rapidly and so hugely, that their skin cracked. Hmmm ..., I thought, I wonder what their cracking skin looks like. It did not occur to me that weight gain might be the cause of the chilblains, because I am close to my optimal weight for my height. Over the past year, mechanical problems in eating, which have been corrected by surgeries, made eating so unpleasant that I greatly reduced my eating and lost twenty pounds in a few months. Yet, my chilblains persisted; but the notion of skin cracking from rapid weight gain insinuated itself into my subconscious.
Last week, an experience with the flu made me realize how the chilblains are formed. I had a mild intestinal flu for a day and a night. During that time, I retained water. I felt bloated. I also had chilblains in the tips of both thumbs and on three other fingers. As the illness receded, one evening and morning, my body released the water it had retained. Not to be gross about it, but I must have peed once every 60 minutes for six hours. I noticed, during this time, that the chilblains quickly disappeared and the cracks healed. I sat in a chair, reading with good light, and I watched the crevices draw together and healing occur. It was like watching the clock hands move in the large case clock in our living room. Layers of skin that had flaked apart folded together. In a few hours, all the chilblains were gone. The chilblains were caused by inflammation of my finger tips caused by water retention! God, life is trivial.
Update. January 10, 2007. Yesterday, I had an appointment with my physician. I was just at the end of a three-month ordeal with chilblains--finger cracks--and their annoying minor pain reminded me to ask him what they are and how they might be treated. This was the first time, in twenty years of having this problem, that I asked any doctor about them. I related the information discussed in this post. His response surprised me. He said that finger cracks are caused by fungus! It is the same fungus that causes the heel cracks in persons with hardened and cracked heels. In my case, he said, after years of taking anti-biotics and steroids for my asthma and other maladies, my immune system was so compromised that it could not quickly fight off the fungus--requiring three months for this otherwise modest task. In addition, the connective tissue at the ends of my fingers, which is normally thin, was weakened by a lack of collagen, making the finger tips vulnerable the inflammation due to water retention. Remedies include treatment with supplements to increase the collagen and strengthen the immune system and anti-fungal ointment for topic treatment.
Update. January 25, 2007. My physician's recommended treatments include an anti-fungus ointment, to be rubbed into the ends of the fingers with the splits, and supplements to strengthen the collagen and the immune system (so that the immune system can more effectively fight off the fungus).
Update. November 19, 2007. My physician prepared an herbal remedy for me to kill the fungus that causes the finger splits. The remedy uses citronella oil, a well-known natural anti-fungal ointment used extensively in veterinary medicine. I have now used it, successfully, in the first month of my finger split season--October through March. In early October, I developed a finger split on a finger on my right hand, followed quickly by a split on a finger on my left hand. I began applying the anti-fungal cream, by rubbing a small amount of it into my finger ends and on the inside of my fingers and palms. I applied it twice a day and occasionally during the day, when washing my hands frequently (as when cooking) possibly removed the cream. The cream began to work immediately; I mean, within minutes the cracks ceased to hurt when using my hands in writing, for instance, which tugged and pulled apart the little cuts. Within several days, the cuts began to close up. Within three weeks, the cuts were completely healed with new skin and no scar lines. I have continued to apply the cream daily and no new cuts have developed. I feel confident in recommending this treatment.
My doctor is Arash Mohrdar, N.D. He has a web site where he sells his homeopathic remedies and other natural remedies and supplements for his patients. He does not list his anti-fungal cream among the products he sells at his on-line shop, but you could email his office and see if you could procure a jar of it.