Chilblains is a painful condition in which blood vessels respond abnormally to the cold. People living in cold, damp climates are affected the most, and for reasons we don't understand, women are more vulnerable than men. Chilblains occur mainly on the fingers, toes, nose, cheeks, and ears, appearing as red or purplish blotches that may be swollen and itchy. They may even blister or ulcerate. The blotches tend to develop on cold-exposed skin that is warmed too quickly by such actions as rubbing the hands together vigorously in front of a fire or heater.
The cause appears to be damage to tiny blood vessels (capillaries) in the skin. When skin is exposed to cold, the capillaries constrict, and in susceptible people, some may become damaged. When the skin is rewarmed too quickly, they leak blood into the surrounding tissue, causing inflammation. Susceptibility may be increased by poor circulation, anemia, hormonal changes, connective tissue problems, and certain bone marrow disorders. If you have chronic recurring chilblains, your clinician may order laboratory tests or do a biopsy to rule out a systemic illness.
You can do several things to help reduce symptoms and promote healing. Don't rub or scratch the affected areas. Use topical steroid creams to relieve itching and swelling. Keep any blistered or ulcerated areas clean. If you think the skin is infected, see a clinician for treatment. As in other cold-induced conditions, it's important to keep your head, hands, and feet warm and dry. If you smoke, stop—it damages your circulation.
People who suffer repeated bouts of chilblains may benefit from treatment with nifedipine (Adalat, Nifediac, Procardia, others), a calcium-channel blocker that dilates blood vessels. For most people, though, it's sufficient to prepare for cold weather and wear clothes, indoors and outdoors, that are adequate to preserve core body temperature. When your skin is exposed to cold, rewarm it gradually—for example, with warm (not hot) water—and without rubbing or slapping.
Chilblains is a painful condition in which blood vessels respond
abnormally to the cold. People living in cold, damp climates are
affected the most, and for reasons we don't understand, women are
more vulnerable than men. Chilblains occur... More