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Chilblains - Symptoms & Chilblain Treatment

Chilblains which is also called pernio are one of the common forms of cold injury usually appears on the feet and toes causing the skin to become red, itchy and swollen. Chilblains are not very common in countries where the cold is more extreme as the air is drier. It is is a localised form of vasculitis . Chilblains in elderly people have a tendency to get worse every year unless precipitating factors are avoided. Chilblains start during the winter months when the weather is cool.

What is the cause of chilblains?

The exact cause of chilblains isn't known, but they are due to blood vessel shut-down in cold conditions. Factors that contribute to tendency to chilblains include,

  • a familial tendency,
  • poor circulation,
  • anemia,
  • poor nutrition,
  • hormonal changes,
  • some connective tissue disorders
  • some bone marrow disorders.

What are the symptoms of chilblains?

The affected area may be itchy, reddish-blue in colour, swollen and often very painful. Some common symptoms are listed as below -

  • Chilblains are very itchy. A burning sensation is also typical.
  • They are usually red to start with but may become purple.
  • Patients may suffer from a burning sensation on their feet.
  • In extreme cases the surface of the skin may break and an infection may develop.
  • Pain and tenderness over the chilblains often develops.
  • In some cases the skin over a chilblain may blister which may delay healing.
  • Sometimes the skin breaks down to leave a small ulcer which is prone to infection.

Chilblains Treatment and Prevention

To prevent chilblains, keep the feet warm by wearing woollen socks or slippers, and avoid overheating cold feet, ie. by using hot showers or direct heat like hot water bottles. Medication is sometimes used to prevent chilblains in people who have recurring chilblains. Treatments your doctor may use include cortisone creams, ointment or patches that dilate blood vessels, and occasionally, tablets that improve blood flow to the affected area.


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