Chilblains are a skin condition that many people know nothing about. In some cases, even those who suffer from this don’t recognize that it has a name. The condition is an inflammation of the small blood vessels in the skin, and it causes itching, swelling, blistering, reddening and pain. In general, chilblains symptoms begin as your skin begins to warm up after being exposed to the cold. It typically affects the fingers, toes, ears and nose, and is sometimes confused with frostbite which manifests itself similarly.

How is this condition caused?

The exact causes of chilblains are unknown. Some people are more likely to experience the condition than others. Those who are more likely to experience it include:

  • Women
  • Those who are underweight
  • Those with poor circulation
  • Patients of Raynaud’s phenomenon

People who live in warmer climates are also slightly more likely to develop chilblains than those who live in extremely cold areas. It is believed that people who live where it is very cold develop a greater tolerance of low temperatures. Those who live in areas where below freezing temperatures happen only sporadically during the winter may be more sensitive to them.

Can it be prevented?

In most cases, chilblains do not cause any long-term adverse effects. Those who suffer from the condition usually only experience it during cold winter months. To prevent chilblains, limit exposure to cold temperatures and keep extremities covered when you are out in the cold. When coming in from the cold, you may minimize the symptoms by warming your skin slowly. Exposing it to extreme heat, like a very hot shower, immediately after coming in from the cold may make symptoms worse.

Though most chilblains redness and irritation will resolve on its own, there is potential for infection, particularly if your skin blisters or cracks open. If you suffer from chilblains blisters, work with your doctor. In any case, be certain to see a doctor immediately if you suspect that blisters have become infected.

What are the treatment options?

Most people who suffer from chilblains use over the counter lotions and creams to treat the symptoms, along with taking measures to prevent the problem in the first place. However, some people who suffer from extreme symptoms need a little more help to keep skin comfortable and prevent infection.

There are prescription strength lotions and creams that can be used to help those who suffer from extreme cases. Corticosteroid creams are used to relieve redness and itching. In severe cases, the doctor may prescribe blood pressure lowering medication to help open up blood vessels, or another medication that improves blood flow.

In the past, many people treated chilblains with Vitamin D. More recent studies, however, have shown that this alternative treatment is ineffective.

If you suffer from chilblains, take steps to prevent the onset of symptoms. However, if the problem becomes severe, or if at home prevention and treatment doesn’t work, talk to your doctor about the right treatment plan to get your condition under control.

Related Conditions:

Recognizing Signs of Frostbite On Your Skin