Chilblains (CHILL-blayns) is a condition that causes inflamed swollen patches and blistering on the hands and feet. It's caused by exposure to damp air that's cold but not freezing. Symptoms may show up a few hours after being in the cold.
Chilblains can be prevented by limiting your time in the cold, dressing warmly and covering exposed skin. If you do get chilblains, keeping the skin warm and dry can help ease the symptoms.
Chilblains, also known as perniosis, usually clears up in 2 or 3 weeks, especially if the weather gets warmer. You may get the symptoms each cold season for years.
The condition doesn't usually result in permanent injury.
Symptoms of chilblains include:
- Small, itchy areas on your skin, often on your feet or hands.
- Sores or blistering.
- Pain or stinging.
- Changes in skin color.
When to see a doctor
Seek medical care for chilblains if you:
- Have symptoms that are long lasting or go away then flare.
- Think you might have an infection.
- Have symptoms that aren't improving after two weeks of home care.
- Have symptoms that extend into the warm season.
- Aren't sure whether you were in below-freezing temperatures, as you might have frostbite.
The exact cause of chilblains is unknown. They may be an unusual reaction of your body to cold followed by rewarming. Rewarming of cold skin can cause small blood vessels under the skin to expand more quickly than nearby larger blood vessels can handle.
The following factors increase the risk of chilblains:
- Wearing clothing and shoes that are tight or expose skin to the cold. Wearing tightfitting clothing and shoes in cold, damp weather may make you more susceptible to chilblains.
- Being a young woman. This condition is most common in females between the ages of 15 and 30.
- Being underweight. This condition is most common in people with a low body mass.
- Living in cold, humid areas. Your risk of chilblains is higher if you live in an area with high humidity and cold but not freezing temperatures.
- Having certain medical conditions. These include Raynaud's phenomenon, connective tissue disease and SARS-CoV-2.
Chilblains symptoms that are long-lasting and develop after repeated exposure to cold and damp conditions can cause scarring and thin skin.
To prevent chilblains:
- Avoid or limit your exposure to the cold.
- When you come in from the cold, rewarm the skin gradually.
- Dress in layers of loose clothing and wear mittens, a scarf and a hat, and warm, water-resistant footwear.
- Cover all exposed skin as completely as possible when going outside in cold weather.
- Keep your hands, feet and face dry and warm.
- Keep your home and workplace comfortably warm.
- Don't smoke.