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Skin infections

Chilblains, ospelak


Chilblains are more or less confined swelling of the skin of the hands, feet, ears and nose, caused by the cold. In general, the survey information relating to chilblains appearing with the cold indicates that they form with sharp changes in temperature and that they are bothersome because “they are really itchy”.

This skin condition is usually known as sabañón in Spanish. However, the use of sabayón (Lezaun, Obanos-N) was also noted. In Basque, our surveys found two terms that are commonly used: ospela / mospela (Olaeta-A; Abadiano, Durango, Orozko, Zeanuri-B; Astigarraga, Ataun, Beasain, Berastegi, Bidegoian, Elgoibar, Elosua, Hondarribia, Oñati, Telleriarte, Zerain-G; Arraioz, Bozate, Eugi, Goizueta, Lekunberri-N) and azkordina (Abadiano, Amorebieta-Etxano, Bedarona, Bermeo, Dima, Durango, Gorozika, Lekeitio, Lemoiz, Muxika, Nabarniz-B). In Arrasate (G), ospela is used for a chilblain on the feet and azkordina for one on the hands. The survey also found the terms ziarra (Ataun-G); aundiubak (Izurdiaga-N); mandoa (Sara-L); odol gaiztoa (Donibane-Lohitzune, Sara-L); anjelura (from the French angelures) (Donoztiri, Heleta, Uharte-Hiri-BN; Donibane-Lohitzune-L); iñherdua (Liginaga-Z).


Cold, poor blood circulation and poor nutrition were among the most common causes given by the people interviewed for chilblains forming and they reported that chilblains disappeared once the good weather arrives. In the odd case, chilblains were considered to be a sign of excellent health (Izurdiaga-N). This condition has practically now disappeared.

In Amézaga de Zuya (A), the interviewees said that chilblains form when the skin has to withstand intense and sharp changes in temperature. Thus, in the past, men suffered from them when they were working outdoors in harsh winter weather and women when washing clothes in the icy water of rivers and springs. In Abadiano (B), they also pointed out that carrying out certain winter farm tasks, such as collecting turnips, where days when chilblains formed. In the Valle de Erro (N), we were told that chilblains came out in winter if people stayed outdoors too long. The shepherds were usually the most affected; one of them remembers that they usually had chilblains even on their ears.

Boils, zaldarrak

Causes and names

The widespread belief that teenagers and young people suffer from boils was noted. In the 17th century, Oihenart quoted an adage coinciding with the data provided by our surveys: “Ezta zaharra duena zaldarra” (anyone who has a boil is not old).

In Bidegoian (G), they reported that boils were more frequent in men and in red-blooded males. In Berastegi (G), they considered them to be a sign of virility, sexual and physical strength. In Moreda (A), they said that strong young men, as they were developing, because "they found no relief and their blood acted up". They just said that young women would get rid of them, just that, when they became adults.

Golondrinos (armpit boils), txoriak

The boil or spot that forms in the armpit is called golondrino (Mendiola, Moreda-A; Obanos, Viana-N). It has also been described as a lump or spot without a head in armpits and in the groin, which is usually the size as a walnut and can sometimes grow as large as an egg (Valle de Carranza-B). The terms xoriak (Sara-L), kurintxoak and azikontxoak (Berastegi-G) are used in Basque, with the latter form being also used for lymph nodes and lymph glands. In Carranza (B), a known remedy to cure golondrinos consisted of boiling fish in a pot, then adding sugar, oil, diced onion, honey, an egg white and wine, and then more wine and oil as it cooled until it thickened. The poultice was put on a cloth and placed on the armpit boil. Another cure was to apply an ointment made out of oil, ivy and virgin wax.

Skin contagious diseases

Scabies, hatza

In the past, and in the present, people frequently did not distinguish between different skin diseases. Diagnosis and remedies, and of course the terms scabies, eczema and ringworm, are thus often mixed up. As an example, one of the ways of calling ringworm in Basque is ezkabia, which comes from the Latin scabies. The confusion of names – Barriola points out– has to be put down to people not discriminating between similar processes[1]. The responses in our surveys are in keeping with these considerations.

Causes and names

In Zerain (G), scabies was thought to come from a blood infection, odola zikiñ, and hot drinks, such as coffee or wine, could cause an outbreak. They remember that it was very itchy and was very uncomfortable. In Elosua (G), they recognised it because the whole body and the gaps between fingers and toes would be covered with a rash. In Orozko (B), they said that scabies makes you feel unbearably itchy and one of the most sensitive areas is between the toes and fingers, which were also pointed out in Abadiano (B) and Bernedo (A).

Ringworm, ezkabia


In Mendiola (A), the people interviewed said that ringworm has pink scaly patches that are very itchy. In Allo and Tiebas (N), they said that it causes small bald patches or circles on the head. In Agurain (A), gasepia is a disease whose symptoms include hair falling out and is cured by shaving the circles that form in the hair. In Abadiño (B), they spoke about bald circles forming in the hair or beard due to a parasite. In Izal (N), they described a disease known as basasos, whose symptom is hair loss. They believed in that location that ringworm was transmitted by the sheep. In Ainhoa (L), as Azkue pointed out at the start of the 20th century, it was said that you should not touch the wren, erregexupita, as that caused ringworm, azteria[2].

  1. Ignacio Mª BARRIOLA. La medicina popular en el País Vasco. San Sebastián: 1952, p. 38.
  2. Resurrección Mª de AZKUE. Euskalerriaren Yakintza. Madrid: 1935, p. 113.