Chilblains are small, itchy, painful lumps that develop on the skin. They develop as an abnormal response to cold. They usually go away over 7-14 days. If you are prone to developing chilblains then you should keep warm in cold weather.
Chilblains (sometimes called pernio) are small, itchy, painful, red swellings on the skin. Chilblains are caused by an abnormal skin reaction to cold. They tend to occur on 'extremities' that more easily become cold. That is, your toes, fingers, nose and earlobes. However, other areas of skin sometimes develop chilblains when they become cold. For example, your heels, lower legs and thighs (especially in horse riders).
Chilblains are common. It is thought that about 1 in 10 people in the UK get chilblains at some stage in their life. It is not clear why some people get chilblains when their skin gets cold. The tiny blood vessels under the skin narrow (constrict) when the skin becomes cold. The blood supply to areas of skin may then become very slow. As the skin re-warms there is some leakage of fluid from the blood vessels into the tissues. In some way this causes areas of inflammation and swelling leading to chilblains.
The speed (rate) of temperature change may play a part. Some people get chilblains if they warm up cold skin too quickly. For example, with a hot water bottle or by sitting very close to a fire.
Some people with poor circulation and with other problems of their blood vessels are more prone to developing chilblains.
However, most chilblains occur in people who are otherwise healthy.
Chilblains occur several hours after being exposed to the cold. You may get just one chilblain but often several develop. They may join together to form a larger swollen, red area of skin.
Typically, each chilblain lasts for about seven days and then, gradually, goes away over a week or so. Some people get recurring bouts of chilblains each winter.
If you are prone to chilblains then trying to prevent them by doing the following is sensible:
Although chilblains are uncomfortable, they do not usually cause any permanent damage. They will usually heal on their own if further exposure to the cold is avoided.