Chilblains are small-sized, painful, itchy red swelling on the skin which are caused by an erratic skin reaction to cold. They usually occur on the extremities that are susceptible to cold such as the nose, fingers, toes and earlobes. Nevertheless, other parts of the skin can develop the condition if they become cold such as the lower legs, heels and thighs.
This condition is quite common but it is still not clear why some develop chilblains if the skin becomes cold. The small-sized blood vessels below the skin constrict if the skin becomes too cold. The supply of blood to parts of the skin is slowed down. Once the skin rewarms, there is leakage of fluid from the blood vessels into the tissues. In some manner, this results to the inflammation and swelling that leads to chilblains.
Chilblains develops several hours after an individual was exposed to cold. One episode can develop but several can occur. In some instances, they might join to form a bigger reddened, swollen area of skin.
- Itchiness and burning sensation
- Initially red but later turn to purple
- Tenderness and pain over the chilblains
- In some instances, the skin might blister which leads to delayed healing
- Occasionally, the skin breaks down to form a small-sized ulcer which is prone to infection.
In most instances, each episode lasts for approximately 7 days and later settles over a week or so. Some develop recurrent episodes during the winter season.
Even though chilblains can cause discomfort, they do not usually cause any lasting damage. They eventually heal if further exposure to cold is avoided.
- Make sure that the affected areas are warm by staying out of the cold or wearing warm socks or gloves while outdoors.
- For those who smoke, cessation is vital since smoking can worsen chilblains.
- Medications are not usually required. One medication specifically nifedipine can open the small blood vessels and can help manage chilblains which do not settle within the expected period. In some cases, it might be used to prevent chilblains during the winter season among those who suffer from recurrent symptoms.
More Information / Disclaimer
The information posted on this page on chilblains is for learning purposes only. Learn to recognize and manage environmental emergencies including chilblains by taking a standard first aid course with one of our training providers.