1 What are Chilblains?

Chilblains, also called pernio are painful skin conditions that arise when small blood vessels in your skin become inflamed due to cold temperature. When you are exposed to cold, you may experience signs like itchy red patches, swelling and bubbles on the exposed part, which are most often your hands and feet.

Usually, the symptoms resolve within weeks on their own as temperature rises.

The symptoms may come back as the season changes. The treatment is simple, avoiding cold and applying lotions on the affected area.

Normally, chilblains are harmless and do not cause any lasting damages but if it leads to infection, the damages can be severe.

As simple as the treatment, you can prevent chilblains by avoiding exposure to cold, protecting your skin and dressing enough to keep you warm.

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2 Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of chilblains are:

  • Small, itchy red patches on your feet or hands
  • Sometimes, blisters or skin ulcers may form
  • Skin may become swollen
  • Pain, burning sensation on your skin
  • The skin might change from red to dark blue

When to see a doctor

The symptoms generally heal on their own. In case there is severe pain, a possible infection, or symptoms last longer, visit your doctor.

If the symptoms do not improve even in warm season, it might be due to other reasons, see a doctor to identify what’s actually causing these symptoms. Exercise special caution if you are a diabetic or have other conditions that impair blood flow.

3 Causes

The exact cause of Chilblains has not been explained yet. Here is one possible explanation. When your body is exposed to cold, your blood vessels contract and when exposed to warmth, they expand.

The transition can cause leakage of blood into the surrounding tissue. This effect may be more pronounced when the transition from cold to warm temperature is rapid.

4 Making a Diagnosis

In case you happen to see your doctor with these symptoms, s/he can diagnose chilblains by simply looking at your skin and asking you about any recent exposure to cold.

Generally, chilblains do not require a medical care.

Sometimes, your doctor can check your circulation. If the symptoms are severe, you may need a skin biopsy to rule out other causes.

5 Treatment

A few treatment methods are used for improving Chilblain symptoms.

When the symptoms do not improve with home remedies, you may be recommended following prescription drugs:

  • Topical corticosteroid: Topical cream containing 0.1% triamcinolone may be applied to the affected area to reduce itching and inflammation.
  • Blood pressure medicine: Nifedipine, a drug used to lower blood pressure can be prescribed, which helps open up blood vessels.

6 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with Chilblains.


The risk of chilblains may be increased by following factors:

  • Tight clothing: Clothes and shoes that are tight might make you more prone to have chilblains especially during cold and damp season.
  • Exposure to cold: When you expose your skin to cold, you are more likely to develop chilblains.
  • Your sex and weight: Women are at a greater risk compared children and males. Being underweight also boosts your chances of having chilblains.
  • Environment and season: Environmental conditions like high humidity and cold contribute to chilblain symptoms unlike dry and very cold environment.
  • Having poor circulation: Poor circulation in conditions like diabetes can increase your sensitivity to temperature changes and hence make you more susceptible to chilblains.
  • Having been diagnosed with Raynaud's disease: A similar condition called Raynaud’s disease increases your chance of having chilblains.


Often mild and non-serious, chilblains can turn serious if they develop into ulcers and infections. If left untreated, these infections can be fatal. If you think you have developed infection due to chilblains, immediately contact your doctor.