Definition of Chilblains
Chilblains are the painful inflammation of small blood vessels in your skin that occur in response to repeated exposure to cold but not freezing air. They most often affect the body's extremities, such as the toes, fingers, heels, ears and nose.
Chilblains can be uncomfortable but rarely cause any permanent damage. They normally heal within a few weeks if further exposure to the cold is avoided.
Chilblains usually clear up within one to three weeks, especially if the weather gets warmer. You may have recurrences seasonally for years. Treatment involves protecting yourself from the cold and using lotions to ease the symptoms. Chilblains don't usually result in permanent injury. But the condition can lead to infection, which may cause severe damage if left untreated.
The best approach to chilblains is to avoid developing them by limiting your exposure to cold, dressing warmly and covering exposed skin.
Symptoms of Chilblains
Chilblains usually develop several hours after exposure to the cold. They typically cause a burning and itching sensation in the affected areas, which can become more intense if you go into a warm room.
Signs and symptoms of chilblains may include:
- Small, itchy red areas on your skin, often on your feet or hands
- Possible blistering or skin ulcers
- Swelling of your skin
- Burning sensation on your skin
- Changes in skin color from red to dark blue, accompanied by pain
Chilblains will usually get better on their own. Seek medical care to check for complications if the pain is unusually severe, if you suspect an infection, or if your symptoms aren't improving after one to two weeks. If the symptoms extend into the warm season, see a doctor to rule out other conditions.
Causes of Chilblains
Chilblains are the result of an abnormal reaction to the cold. When the skin is cold, blood vessels near its surface get narrower. If the skin is then exposed to heat, the blood vessels become wider.
If this happens too quickly, blood vessels near the surface of the skin can't always handle the increased blood flow. This can cause blood to leak into the surrounding tissue, which may cause the swelling and itchiness associated with chilblains.