Chilblains (CHILL-blayns) are the painful inflammation of small blood vessels in your skin that occur in response to repeated exposure to cold but not freezing air. Also known as pernio, chilblains can cause itching, red patches, swelling and blistering on your hands and feet.

Chilblains usually clear up within one to three weeks, especially if the weather gets warmer. You may have recurrences seasonally for years. Treatment involves protecting yourself from the cold and using lotions to ease the symptoms. Chilblains don’t usually result in permanent injury. But the condition can lead to infection, which may cause severe damage if left untreated.The best approach to chilblains is to avoid developing them by limiting your exposure to cold, dressing warmly and covering exposed skin.

Although as many as one in 10 people in the UK are thought to get chilblains at some point in their lives, doctors are not sure why they get them or why some people are more susceptible than others. They occur frequently in children and elderly people. When skin gets cold, the tiny blood vessels under your skin become narrow. When your body heats up again, it is thought that some blood may leak out causing the swelling. If you have poor circulation or other blood vessel problems, you are more likely to get chilblains.

What are the symptoms of chilblains?

If you are susceptible to chilblains, you will notice burning and itching in the affected areas. You will next notice the typical red swellings which may turn purple or become blisters in extreme cases. While chilblains are very uncomfortable or even painful, they are usually not permanent and usually go away when the warm weather returns.

People with lupus, Raynaud’s or who smoke are more at risk of chilblains because these conditions affect your blood vessels.

There are two types of chilblains: chronic and acute. The chronic type of chilblains last for at least five months of the year for at least three years. With chronic chilblains you may also see scarring. People who have acute chilblains usually only have them for one to two weeks.

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