These painful lesions may appear on your skin after exposure to the cold. They’re usually harmless and don’t require treatment. But it’s still important to get a proper diagnosis, as chilblains can resemble other conditions.
Chilblains are small lesions. They’re caused by the inflammation of tiny blood vessels after the skin is exposed to cold air. They’re often painful and tend to affect the skin on the hands and feet.
Other names for this condition include:
- cold-induced vascular disorder
Keep reading to learn more about why chilblains happen and how to get rid of them.
Chilblains cause swollen patches of skin that appear red or, on some occasions, blue. Due to the swelling, they may look shiny.
Although chilblains appear most often on the hands and feet, they can also affect other body parts like the ears, nose, and legs.
Other symptoms of chilblains include:
- a burning sensation
Chilblains typically show up within 1 day of your exposure to the cold.
Cold weather can cause small blood vessels near the surface of your skin to tighten.
Once you warm up, these small vessels may expand too quickly. This may cause blood to leak into nearby tissue, resulting in swelling. The swelling then irritates nerves in the affected area, causing pain.
Doctors aren’t sure why this reaction occurs, but it may be related to an unusual reaction to cold exposure and rewarming.
It’s unclear what exactly causes people to develop chilblains. But there are a few things that might increase your risk.
Some risk factors for chilblains include:
- wearing clothing that’s too tight or exposes the skin to cold, damp conditions
- living in a damp climate
- being female
- having a low body mass index (BMI)
- having poor circulation
- having lupus
- having Raynaud’s phenomenon, a vascular disease that can also cause skin discoloration
A doctor can usually diagnose chilblains during a basic physical examination. They may also ask you some questions about any recent exposure to unusually cold or wet weather.
In rare cases, they may decide to perform a biopsy of the affected area. This involves taking a small sample of tissue and viewing it under a microscope for signs of an underlying condition, like skin cancer.
If you’ve had chilblains before, you’ll likely recognize them on your own. But if you’ve never had them before, it’s best to check in with a doctor to make sure something else isn’t causing your symptoms. Similar conditions include cold urticaria (a form of hives) and vasculitis (any condition that causes inflamed blood vessels).
If having chilblains is new for you, the doctor might want to rule out potentially related conditions, like a circulation issue or lupus.
Chilblains usually go away on their own within 3 weeks. In many cases, your symptoms will start to subside as you warm up. But If you have poor circulation or diabetes, your chilblains may not heal well.
If you have ongoing itching, the doctor might prescribe a corticosteroid cream to reduce inflammation.
In some cases, the doctor might also prescribe blood pressure medications to help open up the small vessels near your skin’s surface. This will also help to reduce inflammation and pain.
You may be able to prevent chilblains by protecting your hands and feet from exposure to the cold.
Always contact a doctor if your symptoms last for more than 3 weeks, the pain is severe, or you don’t seem to be getting better.
While it’s usually best to let chilblains run their course, there are a few things you can do at home to ease your pain.
As soon as you notice symptoms, try to slowly warm up the affected area by putting it under a blanket. Avoid applying direct heat because warming up the area too rapidly can make your symptoms worse.
In addition, avoid massaging or rubbing the area. While this might seem like a good way to slowly warm the area, it can increase irritation and inflammation.
As your chilblains heal, apply a gentle, fragrance-free lotion to the area to keep your skin moisturized. This is especially important if your chilblains have blisters. Keeping your skin clean and moisturized will reduce your risk of developing an infection.
Chilblains can be painful and uncomfortable, but they don’t usually cause any long-term health problems. In most cases, they heal on their own within a few weeks.
Make an appointment with a doctor if:
- you get chilblains frequently
- they don’t seem to heal
- you think they might be infected
- you get them during the warm seasons
You may have an underlying condition that requires treatment or your symptoms may be caused by something else.