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Chilblains: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About chilblains

Chilblains also called ‘Perniosis’ is characterized by the inflammation of small blood vessels of the skin in response to cold temperatures. Some individuals seem to be very sensitive to cold which results in poor blood circulation in the extremities. This is not a serious condition and resolves rapidly with aid of symptomatic measures.

Chilblains: Incidence, age and sex

Chilblains can affect an individual of any age group. However it is more frequently seen in older adults. The incidence of chilblains is seen mainly in cold and humid weather conditions.

Signs and symptoms of chilblains: Diagnosis

The clinical features of chilblains generally occurs a few hours after exposure to cold temperatures and affect chiefly the skin of fingers, toes, face and earlobes. The inflammation of blood vessels of the skin may present with redness and swelling of the affected areas. Individuals may also complain of intense itching over skin lesion. Occasionally, an individual may only present with redness of the nose. The inflammation of the blood vessels may cause progressive swelling of the vessel lining wall which in turn results in reduced circulation of blood. This may bring about numbness and bluish discolouration of the affected skin signifying impaired blood flow.

Causes and prevention of chilblains

Chilblains occur due to increased sensitivity of some individuals towards cold which results in sluggish circulation of blood, especially affecting the extremities. Various factors like anaemia, nutritional deficiencies or hormonal imbalance may result in this condition. Positive family history has also been known to play a role in causation of chilblains. Chilblains are seen mainly in places where weather is cold and humid. Physical exercise and wearing appropriately warm clothing in cold temperatures may help in preventing this condition.

Chilblains: Complications

Generally this condition is mild and do not result in any severe health concerns. However, the skin lesions may get secondarily infected by bacteria in extremely rare instances. Some individuals have also experienced ulceration of skin lesions, typically called ‘acral ulcers’. But in maximum individuals, chilblains resolve within a few hours without any residual health problem.

Chilblains: Treatment

Chilblain is a mild condition which can be easily prevented or can even be managed effectively later. It is important to provide warmth to the affected area if it has become red and swollen. Rub the area vigorously to increase blood circulation. Application of calamine lotions may also help in soothing the itchy skin. Alternatively steroid creams may be prescribed to reduce itching and soreness of skin. It is advisable not to scratch the skin lesion in order to prevent it from being secondarily infected.

Medication namely nifedepine may be considered in some individuals in whom recurrences of chilblains is often seen. This drug is responsible for widening the affected blood vessels and thereby minimising the impairment of blood flow. Antibiotic medications need to be taken if the skin lesion has become infected.