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Chilblains: understanding and managing the condition

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Chilblains, also known as Pernio and Chill Burn, is a condition that affects the small blood vessels called capillaries in the extremities. It occurs due to exposure to cold and humid conditions, resulting in symptoms like itching, red patches, swelling, and, in rare cases, blistering. Although it commonly affects the fingers and toes, other areas such as the face and legs can also be affected. Chilblains predominantly impact women, but anyone can experience this condition, often leading to confusion with Raynaud's Disease.

Treating chilblains

Chilblains typically resolve on their own within a few days to weeks, especially as temperatures rise. Protecting and preventing the reoccurrence of chilblains involves keeping susceptible body parts warm and shielded. This can be achieved by wearing thick insulating socks and gloves and avoiding exposure to cold and humid environments. The use of moisturizers like E45 can help expedite recovery and alleviate associated irritation.

While chilblains rarely cause permanent damage, allowing them to progress untreated can lead to infection and ulceration.

Key Actions to Avoid

To manage chilblains effectively, certain actions should be avoided:

  • Avoid placing feet or hands on radiators or immersing them in hot water to warm up.
  • Refrain from smoking or consuming caffeinated drinks, as they can adversely affect blood flow in the fingers and toes.
  • Resist the temptation to scratch or pick at the affected skin.

Healthwords pharmacists top tips

If chilblains have already developed and the necessary precautions have been taken to keep the affected areas warm, pharmacy treatments may be considered:

  • Chilblains warming creams (ask your pharmacist for a recommendation)
  • Itching and soothing creams/lotions (Calamine lotion and moisturizers)
  • Pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen

When should I see my doctor?

  • Lack of improvement in the skin after 2 to 3 weeks
  • Presence of pus from the affected skin
  • High temperature, accompanied by feelings of heat or chills
  • Frequent chilblains occurrences
  • Coexisting diabetes (foot problems can be more serious in such cases, you may need a diabetic foot check)

Am I fit for work?

Chilblains typically do not require time off work unless severe, blistered, or infected. If necessary, consult with your doctor regarding the need for time off work to allow your chilblains to recover fully.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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