Since I don't like or trust doctors and this condition wasn't life-threatening (and didn't seem to indicate any larger ailments), I put up with it. I found that it got worse after a hot shower and just learned to avoid letting hot water directly hit my toes while I was showering. I did research "itchy swollen toes" on the Internet and the likeliest candidate, athlete's foot, was one I was sure I didn't suffer. I searched forums where other people had precisely the same problem and sought the advice of on-line podiatrists and no clear answer presented itself.
After about 6 weeks, the first incidence faded. I noticed that it reappeared in conjunction with cold weather and my use of a particular blanket. I figured that I might have grown allergic to the blanket and stopped using it. Unfortunately, the second incidence seemed unrelated to the blanket. The only common factor seemed to be cold weather so I wondered if there might be some sort of underlying relationship to arthritis. My husband suggested perhaps my feet were just too cold, but I was reluctant to cover them because they seemed to get itchier as they got warmer.
During the second incidence, I started to suspect a connection between my problem and wearing damp socks or having wet, cold feet. Our kitchen water heater has powerful water pressure and water often spills over the side of the sink while washing dishes. Our kitchen towel is also about three and a half feet from the sink so washing ones hands results in some dripping of water between the sink and the towel as one makes the trip from the sink to the towel. Since I wash the dishes, I often tread in this water. If I was wearing socks, they'd get wet. At the very least, my bare cold feet would get wet. Because of my concerns that there was a water connection, we ordered some fleece-lined slippers from Amazon Japan. This seems to have done the trick. I haven't had a recurrence of my problem this winter despite the cold weather and using the blanket I feared I was allergic to.
Chilblains is a necromancer spell in Guild Wars. The description above is from the Guildwiki entry.
Fast forward to my sister, my friend Shawn, and I playing Guild Wars this past week. We were being attacked by an enemy who was casting a spell on us which had been cast many times before and which I'd been misreading for a long time as "chiblains" (because the text was small and I missed the first "l"). My sister is a reference librarian and seems to know a lot of obscure terminology because she is well-read and is a (somewhat lapsed) member of the SCA. In fact, she knows a baffling number of uncommon terms so I asked her what it meant and she said it was a term for an ailment related to cold which was used in the Middle Ages. With my curiosity satisfied, I didn't give it a second thought.
Yesterday morning, I had a second thought and decided to look it up in the dictionary to get more information. You can see where this is going, but at the time that I looked up the word, I had no idea that it had a connection to me in any way. I just wanted a few more details about the meaning. Of course, the mystery ailment I had was chilblains. There's an excellent page explaining it here, but I'll say for the sake of those not wishing to go there that it is the development of a previously unexperienced sensitivity to cold in the extremities, especially the hands, feet, nose, and earlobes. It is exacerbated by sudden changes in temperature such as going from having very cold feet to jumping in a hot shower (which is why a shower set it off in the worst way for me). Moisture also plays a part in it. Ironically, not covering my feet because that made them itchier made it worse in the long run as it increased the number and severity of extreme temperature changes. It's not a rare problem (10% of people will experience it in some form or another in their lifetime) and it usually happens to otherwise healthy people.
The funny aspect of all of this to me at this point is that my "diagnosis" came because of an on-line game. A lot of people think most of what shows up in games is rather fanciful, made up stuff, but the truth is that many fantasy games use real, but obscure, terminology. Granted, visiting a doctor may have yielded a proper diagnosis, but my experience is that doctors diagnose using the equivalent of a diagnostic dart board when there is no clear cause (or they encounter something they're not familiar with). They have a whole slew of options and toss a dart at possibilities until they are eliminated before eventually hitting the bull's eye. Before they hit it straight on, they usually test you for everything from brain cancer to head lice and scare the hell out of you (and empty your wallet) in the process. Reading up on other people's experiences with chilblains, I noticed that they sometimes had to visit 3 or 4 doctors before they came across one who recognized the problem. Mind you, if I had a persistent or serious problem, I'd grit my teeth and go to a doctor. This just wasn't one of those cases.