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Chilblains usually affect extremities such as toes, fingers, nose and earlobes.

Chilblains usually affect extremities such as toes, fingers, nose and earlobes.
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Chilblains

What are chilblains?

Chilblains are itchy, swollen and painful parts of the skin, forming after exposure to cold and damp conditions. They usually affect fingers, and toes but can also appear on the nose and ears.

Chilblains do not cause lasting damage. They usually heal in a few weeks. They're not the same as frostbite which is more serious. The affected area might stay sensitive to cold after they heal.

Causes of chilblains

Chilblains only occur in the cold. You are more likely to develop chilblains if you are sensitive to the cold. Other causes are poor circulation or sensitive skin.

It is thought that chilblains occur when the flow of blood increases when the fingers and toes warm up.

Symptoms of chilblains

Chilblains can appear quickly. The affected area might be itchy, reddish blue, swollen and painful due to inflammation. Blisters containing clear fluid may also form.

Treatment of chilblains

In most cases, you will be able to treat your chilblains yourself. You can:

  • use lanolin-based creams to ease the itching and swelling
  • avoid scratching which delays healing and can cause infection
  • massage the affected area if it's not too painful or ulcerated
  • keep the affected area warm but not hot.

They should disappear within 2-3 weeks. Once you have been affected, chilblains can recur after even brief exposure to cold, so it's important to stay warm.

See your doctor if the symptoms remain or you can't get the pain under control. Your doctor might prescribe:

  • cortisone creams to reduce itching and swelling
  • medication or patches to expand the blood vessels and increase blood flow to the affected areas.

Prevention of chilblains

You can lower the risk of chilblains by:

  • keeping your hands, feet and body warm
  • exercising regularly to improve your circulation.

More information about circulation is available on Blood and blood vessels article.

Last reviewed: September 2015

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