Chilblains, also known as pernio, are a condition that is most common in the cold winter months. They are a painful reaction to warming the skin too quickly after being exposed to cold temperatures.

What causes chilblains?

The exact reason why chilblains occur is not known. The common thought is that they occur in response to warming the skin after being exposed to extreme cold. When you are exposed to cold, the tiny blood vessels in your skin narrow. Warming the skin after cold exposure can cause these tiny vessels to expand back to their normal size more quickly than if your body warmed gradually, resulting in chilblains. Most often affected areas include the toes, fingers, nose and earlobes. It can also occur in other areas of your body like your heels, lower legs, or thighs.

What are the signs & symptoms of chilblains?

Chilblain causes a small red area or lumps on the skin that are most often found on your hands or feet. The lumps may be itchy, painful and/or tender. There may also be swelling of the skin, blister formation, or burning sensations around these lumps. The skin may change colour from red to a dark blue or purple colour. In severe cases chilblains may lead to ulceration or infection. Chilblains usually last about a week, and clear up on their own without any medical treatment.

Who is most at risk for chilblains?

Chilblain is a very common condition, and anyone can get them. Exposure of the skin to cold, damp conditions increases your chance of getting chilblains. It most often occurs in those who work in the cold outdoors. Not wearing proper clothing, especially on the feet and hands, during the cold winter months may also cause chilblains.

What is the treatment for chilblains?

Chilblains will get better on their own as time passes, usually about 1 to 3 weeks. Since getting chilblains is dependent on your exposure to cold, once it clears up it can occur again. To prevent getting chilblains the following may be helpful:

  • Minimize cold temperature exposure
  • Keep skin warm when going outside – dress in layers, cover as much of skin as possible, be sure to wear socks, proper winter footwear, and gloves/mittens
  • When warming after being outside, avoid direct sources of heat – for example do not put your feet close to a warming heat source
  • Warm your skin slowly after being outside – if done too quickly it can make exhibiting chilblains worse, or cause more chilblains
  • Keeping the area with chilblains clean and bandaged
  • Avoid stretching the affected area

Your doctor or nurse practitioner may recommend an over the counter lotion, or prescribe a corticosteroid cream to help the itching and swelling.

If you think your child may have chilblains, make an appointment to see your doctor of nurse practitioner.

– Dr. Christina Cesareo and Dr. G Paul Dempsey

[Featured image: Sapp]


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