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What are chilblains?


Chilblains occur as a result of painful inflammation of small blood vessels lying under your skin that reacts in response to a sudden warming or cooling from a change in cold temperatures. It is known as pernio and can result in itchy red patches, swelling and blistering on the extremities of your toes, fingers, ears and also your nose.


Chilblains can become better on their own, but this mostly only happens when the weather gets warmer. Chilblains usually do improve in one to three weeks, but they can recur seasonally for years. Treatments usually consist of lotions and medication. Chilblains don't normally result in permanent injury, but they can lead to an infection, which can cause minor damage if it is left untreated.

The best way to deal with chilblains is to avoid developing them by limiting your exposure to cold, dressing warmly, covering exposed skin and keeping your skin sufficiently moisturized in cold weather.


Symptoms of Chilblains

  • Having small, itchy red areas on your skin, often on your feet or hands
  • Blisters on your body
  • If your skin is swelling up
  • A burning feeling felt on your skin
  • Experiencing changes in the skin color from red to dark blue, accompanied by pain
  • Having possible ulceration

Causes of Chilblains

The real cause of chilblains is unclear. They could be an abnormal response of your body to cold weather followed by rewarming. Rewarming of cold skin may cause small blood vessels that are under the skin to become bigger more quickly than the larger blood vessels can handle, resulting in a "bottleneck" effect with the blood dripping into nearby tissues.

Risk factors

  • Exposure of skin to cold weather: Skin that is visible to the cold and damp conditions are more likely to cause chilblains.
  • Being female: Women are more likely to develop chilblains, but the reason for this is unclear.
  • Being underweight: People who have around 20 percent less body weight than is expected for their height have an increased risk of chilblains.
  • The time of year: Chilblains usually happen in early winter to spring periods. Chilblains can disappear completely in the spring.
  • Having poor circulation: People who have poor circulation are more sensitive to changes in temperature, which makes them more susceptible to chilblains.
  • Having been diagnosed with Raynaud's phenomenon: People who have Raynaud's phenomenon that is another cold-related condition that affects the extremities, are more at risk of having chilblains. Either condition can result in sores, but Raynaud's causes all different types of color changes in your skin.


Chilblains may cause problems if you develop skin blisters. If this happens, you could develop ulcers and infections. Besides being painful, infections can be life-threatening if they are left untreated.

Treatment for Chilblains

Treatment options for chilblains include:

  • Corticosteroid creams: Topical corticosteroids can help decrease itching and swelling.
  • Prescription medication: A blood pressure lowering drug called Nifedipine is used to treat the cause of chilblains, this can help open up your blood vessels. There is another medication that may help improve the flow of blood, which may be prescribed for chilblains which is called pentoxifylline (Trental).
  • Infection prevention: If your skin has been cracked or broken, treatment may also include cleaning and protecting your wounds to prevent any infection from setting in.




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