If exposure to cold temperatures creates small, itchy bumps on your toes and other areas of your feet, you may be suffering from chilblains.

Chilblains, also known as pernio and perniosis, are small, itchy red swellings that form on the toes and pressure areas of the feet several hours after being exposed to cold temperatures. The lesions change in color from red to blue at which time they also become painful and inflamed. Chilblains are the result of an abnormal reaction to cold temperatures and usually affect individuals in the winter months. Women are more likely to suffer from chilblains than men.

Causes of chilblains

Chilblains are the result of an abnormal reaction to cold temperatures in which the blood vessels do not respond quickly enough to a change from cold to hot. When it gets cold, the small blood vessels constrict; if your feet are warmed again too quickly and the blood vessels don't respond fast enough, blood leaks into the tissues causing chilblains.

The exact cause of chilblains is not fully known, but some people are more susceptible to the disorder, including individuals who: 

  • Are affected by anemia. 
  • Are experiencing hormonal changes. 
  • Consume a diet of poor nutritional choices. 
  • Have a connective tissue disorder or a bone marrow disorder. 
  • Have poor circulation.

Chilblains symptoms

Chilblains begin as small, itchy, red, swollen bumps on the toes and pressure areas of the feet that form several hours after exposure to cold temperatures. The itching usually intensifies when going into a warm room or heated area. These bumps then turn from red to dark blue and become painful and inflamed. The skin may also become dry and begin to crack, which can increase the risk of infection.

Treatment of chilblains

Once chilblains develop, they may itch, but it is important to avoid scratching the sores. Cortisone creams can be applied to the area to relieve itching. Another important part of treatment is improving circulation. Applying lotion to the skin can help stimulate circulation and moisturize the skin to prevent cracking. If the skin does crack, be sure to keep the area clean to prevent infection.

A recurrence of chilblains can often be prevented by keeping the feet warm. This can be done by wearing thermal or insulating insoles in cold temperatures. If the feet do get cold it is important to warm them gradually to help the blood circulate. Wearing socks can help warm the feet slowly, but avoid putting them directly in front of a heat source, as this may warm them too quickly.


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