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What are chilblains, and what do you do with them?

Chilblains is a skin condition caused by an unusual reaction to coldness. The condition presents as lumps, usually red or purple – and is common in children and older people. 

Sometimes they can be itchy or even sore. 

According to Mayo Clinic, chilblains is the painful inflammation of small blood vessels in your skin. It is also known as pernio and responds to cold, not freezing, air. 

The condition displays red patches, swelling and blisters on hands and feet. You may also experience blisters, skin ulcers and burning sensations on other parts of the body. Other common places for chilblains include ear lobes, nose, cheeks, heels, shins, thighs and hips. 

The diagnosis process

Only a physical examination, done by a professional, can diagnose chilblains. During the examination, the doctor will inquire about your recent exposure to abnormal cold or wet weather. 

There are rare cases where you will need a biopsy of the affected area. A small tissue sample is removed and analysed under a microscope, to search for underlying conditions such as skin cancer. 

If you have experienced chilblains before, you likely recognise any recurring symptoms. If not, speak to your doctor and check that it isn’t urticaria or vasculitis. 

Risk factors

You can reduce your risk of chilblains by avoiding tight-fitting clothing and wearing shoes in cold, damp weather. The risk of developing chilblains is higher if your skin is constantly exposed to cold, damp conditions. 

Being female increases your chances of getting chilblains. Being underweight is also a common risk factor.

The season and your environment make you more susceptible to chilblains. Cold, drier areas with high humidity and under-developed living conditions are also high risk. People have poor circulation and sensitivity to temperature changes are susceptible.

People with Raynaud’s, a disease that constricts blood supply to the skin when it’s cold also develop chilblains. Other conditions like Lupus, an autoimmune connective tissue disease, are also associated with chilblains.


Here are a few ways you can prevent getting chilblains:

  • Stay out of cold environments.
  • Wear layers of loose clothing, including mittens and warm, water-resistant footwear. 
  • Cover up exposed skin, especially when you are outside in cold weather. Your hands, feet and face must remain dry and warm. 
  • You can buy creams and lotions at the pharmacy. Steroid creams are not recommended anymore. 
  • Do not smoke. 
  • Keep your home and workplace warm at all times.
  • Certain medications may narrow tiny blood vessels. If you are prone to chilblains, discuss the pros and cons of these medications with your doctor first.

When to see a doctor

Chilblains can cause skin blisters. Blisters open you up to developing painful ulcers and infections. If untreated, it can potentially be life-threatening. Book an appointment with your doctor if you suspect an infection. 

Signs of an infection include:

  • swelling 
  • pus forming in the affected area
  • feeling generally unwell
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above.

Usually, chilblains heal on their own. However, if the pain is severe, seek medical care, especially your symptoms are still prominent after one to two weeks. Healing may be impaired if you have diabetes or poor circulation. Be cautious, though.

Chilblains usually clear up when the weather gets warmer. You can experience recurrences for years. Treatment literally involves keeping yourself warm. There are loads of medicated lotions and ointments to ease the symptoms. 

Can they cause injury?

Not necessarily. Chilblains don’t usually result in permanent injury. But the condition can lead to infection, which may cause severe damage if left untreated.

Chilblains have ‘no chill’

Chilblains can occur in the healthiest of people. You are also at risk if your family has a history of chilblains. 

In some cases, chilblains become chronic for patients who are repeatedly exposed to coldness. Your skin can scar over time and develops a different colour to the rest of your surrounding skin. 

Sometimes, doctors prescribe blood pressure medications. It helps to open small vessels near your skin’s surface and reduces inflammation and pain. 

Avoid massaging the area because it can increase irritation. Once the chilblains heal, an unscented lotion will do the trick to keep that area of skin moisturised. This should be noted explicitly if your chilblains have blisters. Keeping skin clean and moisturised prevents any consequent outbreaks. 

Get professional help

If you notice anything unusual or uncomfortable on your body, the best thing to do is speak to a medical professional or your doctor. We know that constant doctor appointments can get heavy on the pocket, but that is why we are here – to make healthcare and health-related advice both accessible and affordable. 

Affinity Health offers clients the choice of a day-to-day plan, a hospital plan, or a combination. You can also benefit from booster options.

Contact Affinity Health today, and our agent will get in touch with you and take you through all the options available to find an easy, affordable cover that is handcrafted for you and your loved ones. 


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