Chilblains (Pernio)

Injuries caused due to exposure to cold can be grouped under the name Chilblains. There are chiefly two factors that contribute towards this injury-

  • Exposure to cold temperature
  • Poor blood circulation in the parts of the body that suffered

Common areas affected include our peripheries. This is so because the peripheries are supplied by smaller blood vessels, which may contract more easily in response to cold temperatures, affecting the amount of blood and hence warmth supplied by them to concerned body part.

Commonly affected areas include the ears, earlobes, nose tips, toes and fingers.

Common Symptoms

  • Burning sensation over the affected part.
  • It may become red and slightly swollen.
  • Fingers or affected toes may be difficult to move or fold.
  • Itchiness is very common, triggered by chemicals produced on site due to inflammation.
  • If left untreated , the swelling may increase and small blisters may erupt there.
  • Blisters may ulcerate to form wounds. These ulcers are difficult to treat due to limited blood supply in the region. They tend to get infected, further aggravating the problem.


Chilblains are caused due to severe exposure to cold temperatures. This may include working with cold water, as during cleaning or being exposed to cold winds. People living in higher altitudes are more likely to face these injuries.

However, not everyone gets chilblains. There are certain factors that make you prone to such injuries.

The first is your personal body makeup. Some individuals have a good peripheral circulation, while some do not. Those who have a poor blood supply in their peripheries are prone to chilblains.

Further more, if you are malnourished or have a sedentary lifestyle, you may get chilblains easily. Staying physically active maintains a good blood circulation, preventing such problems from occurring.

Chilblains are commoner in old age and diabetics. This section of population has relatively poor peripheral blood circulation.

Exposure to cold is a direct cause. If you keep your body ares covered, you are less likely to be affected by such injuries.

Managing a Chil Blain

If you get chilblains, you need to apply topical anti inflammatory ointments over it. Apply the medicine liberally and regularly, till the injury subsides. Any delay in action can lead to ulcer formation there.

Secondly, keep the affected part well covered. Wear woolen socks or gloves, as per requirement. In general, it is a better practice to wear more than one layer of clothing over the affected part, instead of covering it by a single one.Layering of clothes is able to hold warmth more effectively.

Sometimes, vasodilator medicines are prescribed to open up or relax the blood vessels of the peripheries.

If you have developed blisters or ulcers over there, antibiotics may be applied locally over the affected areas. This is to arrest infections there. If topically applied medicines do not work, oral antibiotics need to be given.

Antihistaminics can be given to alleviate itching. This is important so that you don’t scratch over there. Scratching may make things worse. It may breach the covering skin surface, instilling infections inside.

Keep your nails trimmed to limit damage suffered during inadvertent scratching. Too much of scratching may lead to wound formation there. Such wounds take very long to heal.


Preventing chilblains is the best part of management. It is simple and includes covering the peripheries well when the temperatures are low.

  • Wear proper socks, gloves and scarves/caps during winter season. Layering of clothes there would be more desirable instead of wearing a single heavy cloth.
  • Keep your skin well moisturized by applying emollients. Dryness may give cracks or skin breaches, which may further complicate the situation by instilling infections into it.
  • Moisturizing the skin also maintains the elasticity of the part, keeping it supple and easily movable.
  • Warm oil massages may improve blood circulation there, maintaining inner warmth.
  • When you note the first reaction to cold, which may be redness in the area, double cover the area to cut off cold exposure there.

Can You Apply Vicks Vaporub Over It?

Creams containing menthol or eucalytus oils have being used over chilblains with fairly good results. They work by dilating the peripheral blood vessels of the part.

Rewarming The Affected Part

It is not a good idea to put your affected hands or toes directly under a heater or sun. Such abrupt changes in temperature may exacerbate symptoms. Itching may become intense. You may even get blisters over there.

Instead, keep the region evenly warm throughout the day. Avoid any further exposure to cold. Staying physically active would help.

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