What are chilblains?
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.
Chilblains occur when the small blood vessels in your skin get inflamed due to the cold. They can also be due to poor circulation or sensitive skin.
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
- not smoking, as this affects your circulation
More information about circulation is available on Blood and blood vessels article.
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Last reviewed: January 2018