Chilblains

Chilblains, also called perniosis or blain, is a medical condition similar to frostbite or trench foot. Chilblains are caused by exposure of skin to damp cold. The cold causes constriction of the small blood vessels in the skin and if rewarming of the skin happens too rapidly, there is leakage of blood into the tissues as the blood vessels do not respond quickly enough to this rewarming. Small blood vessels below the skin are damaged, but there is no freezing of tissue, thus distinguishing it from frostbite.

Chilblains appear as small itchy, red areas on the skin. Chilblains become increasingly painful as they get congested and take on a dark blue appearance. They may also become swollen. As they dry out, chilblains leave cracks in the skin so the risk of getting an infection increases. Chilblains are common on the toes, but can also affect the fingers and the face (especially the nose and ears). Chilblains are also common on areas of the feet exposed to pressure, such as bunions or where the toes are under pressure from tight shoes or where there are corns and callus.

Symptoms:

  • Ulceration of the digits and toes
  • Itchy skin inflammation
  • Skin redness
  • Toe skin inflammation
  • Finger skin inflammation
  • Earlobe inflammation

Treatments:

  • Keep the area warm but avoid direct heat (ie. do not expose affected areas to a heater)
  • Avoid rubbing and scratching
  • If the skin is broken, use an antiseptic dressing to prevent the chilblains from becoming infected
  • Anti-itch creams, such as Calamine lotion
  • Zambuk ointment
  • Nifedipine may be used in more severe or recurrent cases. It’s vasodilatation helps reduce pain, facilitate healing and prevent recurrences.