Chilblains are inflamed, painful skin patches. Typically, these skin patches develop after exposure to cold but not freezing air. Anyone can get chilblains, but they are most common in women. Most of the time, chilblains heal without treatment.
Chilblains, also known as pernio, are small patches of inflamed skin. They develop after exposure to air that’s cold or damp but not freezing. Usually, chilblains form on your fingers or toes, but they can develop on the legs or ears.
Chilblains are typically red or bluish. They may feel itchy, tender or painful. Other names for chilblains include pernio and perniosis.
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Anyone can get chilblains, but females and people with a low body mass index (BMI) have a higher risk of developing them. You are also more likely to get chilblains if you:
Babies can get chilblains if they are not dressed in appropriate clothing (including face covering) in damp or cold weather.
Chilblains usually heal within one to three weeks providing you avoid cold or damp weather and dress appropriately. If you’re at high risk, chilblains may return every year when the weather changes. Your provider may prescribe treatment to prevent frequent chilblains.
Chilblains form after intermittent or prolonged exposure to cold or damp air. The cold air causes blood vessels near your skin’s surface to tighten or constrict, leading to decreased oxygenation and inflammation in these exposed areas.
The exact reason why this reaction occurs is unknown. Some experts believe pernio develops because of:
Chilblains are painful, swollen patches of skin. Although they can appear anywhere, they usually develop on your fingers or toes. They may also show up on your ears or nose. Sometimes, these skin patches look shiny.
You may also have:
Often, your healthcare provider can diagnose chilblains by looking at your skin. You may also have blood tests or a skin biopsy. These tests help your provider determine if you have a condition that increases your risk for chilblains or have another condition that mimics chilblains.
Often, chilblains go away on their own as long as you avoid the cold and/or damp weather conditions. If you still have chilblain symptoms after two or three weeks, you may see a healthcare provider for treatment.
Your provider may prescribe medications. These medicines can soothe pain or itching. Some medicines also lower your chances that chilblains will come back. You may take:
When you get chilblains, you may use over-the-counter remedies to ease pain and swelling. You should:
There is no guaranteed way to prevent chilblains. You may reduce your risk by:
Chilblains usually go away within one to three weeks. If chilblains keep coming back, your healthcare provider may give you a medication to prevent chilblains from developing as frequently.
Usually, chilblains do not lead to long-term health problems or complications. It’s important to keep any affected skin areas clean so that you don’t get a skin infection.
Some conditions that affect your blood vessels cause symptoms similar to perniosis. Some of these conditions can be severe. A healthcare provider can provide a diagnosis and treatment.
These conditions include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Chilblains are painful, inflamed patches of skin. They develop after exposure to cold temperatures. Anyone can get chilblains, but they are most common in women. You are also more likely to develop chilblains if you have a low BMI or live in a cold, damp climate. For many people, chilblains go away without treatment. If chilblains keep coming back, your provider may prescribe medicines to keep them from returning as frequently. For most people, chilblains don’t lead to long-term health complications.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/24/2021.
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