What are chilblains?

Treating and Preventing Chilblains

Chilblains can be very annoying, but they're usually not serious. They go away on their own in a week or two. But if they result in open sores, if blisters break, or if scratching opens the skin, infection is possible. This is a more serious problem and can result in scarring. An infection can even be life-threatening if left untreated [source: Mayo Clinic]. Because diabetes often creates circulation problems, diabetics need to see a doctor if chilblains develop in order to avoid complications.

Most patients need no treatment for chilblains except to avoid cold. A soothing, anti-itch cream like calamine lotion can help. You should apply an antiseptic and sterile dressing if the skin is broken. Try to avoid scratching the affected area or breaking blisters. Exposure to ultraviolet light and application of corticosteroid creams have been tried in order to alleviate chilblains, but the effectiveness of these treatments is still being debated [source: Bohman].

Doctors sometimes prescribe the drug nifedipine (Procardia) for chilblains. This drug relaxes and widens blood vessels and can both ease the symptoms of chilblains and prevent recurrence of the condition in people who are susceptible [source: Maroon].

The best approach is to try to keep from getting chilblains in the first place. Here are some prevention tips that can help:

  • Warm your hands and feet before going out into the cold.
  • Always wear warm clothing outside, even if the temperature is not frigid. Dress in layers.
  • Remain active when outside in the winter to keep your blood circulating. Don't sit around in a cold environment.
  • Wear a hat and scarf, and be sure your gloves and socks will help you stay warm.
  • Try battery-heated shoe inserts or chemical toe and hand warmers if you tend to get chilblains.
  • Give up smoking and go easy on coffee when you're going to be in the cold.
  • Avoid wet or damp conditions.
  • If you do get cold, never put your hands or feet near a radiator or fire. Rewarm them gradually.

If you ever get chilblains, you'll want to redouble your efforts to prevent a recurrence of the condition.

Read on to find out more about chilblains and other cold-weather skin conditions and how to prevent them.

Related Articles


  • Beacham, Bruce E., M.S., M.D; Philip H. Cooper, M.D.; C. Stuart Buchanan, M.D.; and Peyton E. Weary, M.D. "Equestrian Cold Panniculitis in Women." Archives of Dermatology, 1980. (accessed June 10, 2010)http://archderm.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/116/9/1025
  • Bohman, Keith D.; Thomas. J. Papadimos; Lorie D. Gottwald; and Zhixing K. Pan. "Perniosis (chilblains) masquerading as CA-MRSA: a case report." Case Journal, 2009. (accessed June 10, 2010)http://casesjournal.com/content/2/1/6500
  • Doerr, Steven, M.D. "Frostbite, Chilblains, and Trench Foot." MedicineNet. (accessed June 10, 2010)http://www.medicinenet.com/frostbite/article.htm
  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). "Cold Stress." (accessed June 10, 2010)http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/coldstress/
  • Newson, Louise. "The management of chilblains." Onmedica.com. January 19, 2010. (accessed June 10, 2010)http://www.onmedica.com/NewsArticle.aspx?id=4dc68325-0af8-4a4f-b163-b2f004a520ff
  • Maroon, Michele S, M.D., and David Hensley, M.D. "Pernio." eMedicine from WebMD. Updated March 26, 2010. (accessed June 10, 2010)http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1087946-overview
  • Mayo Clinic. "Chilblains." September 3, 2008. (accessed June 10, 2010)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chilblains/ds01091
  • Weismann, Kaare and Frederik Gronhoj Larsen. "Pernio of the Hips in Young Girls Wearing Tight-fitting Jeans with a Low Waistband." Acta Dermato-Venereologica. November 2006. (accessed June 10, 2010)http://adv.medicaljournals.se/files/pdf/86/6/2549.pdf

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