Chilblains are the condition where the presence of small, itchy swellings on the skin occurs as a reaction due to exposure to cold temperatures. The extremities, such as the toes, fingers, heels, ears, and nose are often affected by this condition. This condition mostly brings discomfort only and rarely causes any permanent damage. Chilblains usually heal within a few weeks if any further exposure to the cold is stopped.
Signs and symptoms of chilblains
The symptoms of chilblains usually manifest several hours after contact to the cold.
- A burning and itching feeling in the affected area that can become more severe if moving to a warm room
- Swelling of the affected area
- Discoloration of the affected area to a reddish or bluish color
- In severe cases of chilblains, the skin may break, and sores or blisters may develop
It is important that you should not scratch the skin as it can tear the skin easily and become infected from the break.
When to see a doctor?
Most people who have chilblains don’t need to seek medical attention as it usually heals within a few weeks and doesn’t cause any permanent problems. However, seek medical attention when:
- You experience severe or recurring chilblains
- Symptoms fail to improve within a few weeks
- Swelling accompanied by pus formation in the affected area
- Feeling generally unwell
- A fever with temperatures of 100.4°F (38°C)
- Swollen glands
What causes chilblains?
The reason is not exactly known but is believed to be an abnormal response of the body when exposed to the cold then followed by rewarming in some people. Rewarming of cold skin can cause the small blood vessels under the skin to expand more quickly than the nearby larger blood vessels. When this happens too quickly, the blood vessels near the surface of the skin can’t always handle the sudden increase of blood flow causing the blood to seep into the surrounding tissue which causes the swelling and itchiness.
Risk factors that increase chances of chilblains
- Tight clothing or clothing that exposes skin to the cold.
- Being female and the weight of the person.
- The environment and the season.
- Having poor circulation.
- Having been diagnosed with a condition named Raynaud’s disease.
The details posted on this page on chilblains is for learning purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage – enroll in a first aid course with one of our training providers.