What Is a Chilblain?

Updated November 21, 2016

Chilblains are a response to the rapid warming of your skin after being exposed to extreme cold temperatures. When your skin is exposed to the cold, your blood vessels constrict. When they are warmed too quickly, your blood vessels expand in response to the heat. As a result, your blood vessels become inflamed, which causes the chilblains.


When you develop a chilblain, your skin becomes extremely itchy and red at the affected sites. In some instances, a chilblain can become bluish, almost appearing as a bruise. The affected area can become painful, swollen, and you might feel as if there is pressure at the affected site. Once a chilblain dries, your skin can become cracked, which can increase your risk of developing an infection. Though chilblains commonly occur on your toes, they can also occur on your face and fingers.


According to the Mayo Clinic, any exposure to the cold may result in the creation of a chilblain. Chilblains occur more often in women than in men. If you have poor circulation, you may also be more susceptible to developing chilblains. It is common for a chilblain to develop if pressure is applied on your skin. For example, if you're wearing tight shoes, the compression from the shoes can constrict your blood vessels further, which can then lead to a chilblain.


Corticosteroid (topical steroid) creams can help with symptoms of itching. According to the Mayo Clinic, nifedipine, a prescription medication, helps free your blood vessels from constriction. If your skin has broken, you'll need to keep the affected area clean and apply dressings to prevent an infection from occurring. Ointments such as Bacitracin can be applied to the affected area to help reduce your chances of developing an infection. If an infection develops, you will need to take a course of antibiotics as prescribed by your physician.


When going into cold weather, always dress appropriately and limit the amount of time your spend outside. Gloves and thick socks should be used as insulators against the cold. According to Derm Net, you should avoid triggers that may cause your blood vessels to constrict, such as caffeine, decongestants or diet aids.

Seeing a Doctor

Chilblains usually resolve on their own. However, if you begin to experience a fever and chills that do not subside within a couple of days and you have broken skin that is beginning to ooze pus, seek medical attention. This is a sign of infection. If you develop pain that becomes severe and can't be relieved, or if your symptoms and the appearance of your skin doesn't improve within two weeks, see a physician.

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