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Chilblains

Chilblains is a type of skin condition that is identified by presence of inflamed tiny blood vessels that occur in the skin, and which is mostly accompanied by intense pain. The disease generally appears when the skin is suddenly warmed up after it has been exposed to cold temperatures for a few hours. Chilblains can result in swelling, abnormal reddish patches on skin, itchiness and blistering of the extremities such as the fingers, nose, toes and ears. Another name for the disorder is pernio.

It is fairly easy to cure chilblains. The anomalies on the skin usually disappear within a period of 1 to 3 weeks. However, it has a tendency to recur with a change in the seasons. Lotions and other drugs are usually prescribed to treat chilblains. Even though the condition does not lead to scarring of the skin, the skin irregularities associated with the condition are at greater risk to infection, which when kept untreated can result in serious damage of the skin

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Patients can prevent recurrent cases of chilblains by following certain safety measures such as restricted exposure to cold temperatures, sufficiently covering the bare sections of the skin, and by wearing warm clothes.

Symptoms of chilblains

A few signs and symptoms of chilblains are mentioned below:

  • Tiny, red colored patches appear on the skin, especially on the feet and hands. Such abnormal patches may be quite itchy
  • The color of the skin may also change color from reddish to dark blue
  • The skin sites that experience chilblains may be painful. Burning sensations may also occur at these affected areas
  • In some cases, blisters may appear on the skin
  • Rare cases of chilblains may lead to development of skin ulcers
  • Skin inflammation and swelling may be noticed

Chilblains that is accompanied by the development of blisters can result in some health complications like bacterial infections of such blisters as well as ulcer formation. These infections can be extremely painful and can lead to death of the patients when left untreated. Hence people suffering from blisters caused by chilblains should seek medical care

Causes

  • It is thought that chilblains is the result of an anomalous reaction of body after excessive exposure to cold. The condition mostly affects those areas of skin which undergo sudden warming after an experience with cold weather. For example, people may develop chilblains when they try to rapidly warm their cold hands by placing them directly in front of a heater or the fireplace.
  • The rapid rise in the skin temperature results in spontaneous expansion of the tiny blood vessels present in the skin. Such enlargement is a bit too fast for the big blood vessels occurring in the vicinity, resulting in failure to adapt to such a situation. This results in a bottleneck-type state, wherein all the blood vessels vie for the same space, thereby causing leakage of blood to the surrounding tissues. The exact cause of such an abnormal response still remains unknown.

A few risk factors that can elevate the possibility of being affected by chilblains are as follows:

  • A particular area of skin that is subjected to cold temperatures for a significant amount of time becomes susceptible to chilblains when rapidly warmed
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon is a skin disorder that results in skin color changes after being exposed to cold. Patients of this disease are more prone to cases of chilblains
  • Women have a greater propensity to develop chilblains as compared to men
  • It may be noted that individuals who live in cold and dry regions are less likely to be affected by chilblains because the living conditions and apparels in such areas are more appropriate to protection against cold.  However, people residing in cold places that have high levels of humidity, are at increased risk to developing chilblains
  • People who wear uncomfortable, ill-fitting gloves or tight shoes tend to experience additional pressure on the skin, thereby elevating the risk or exacerbating a current case of chilblains
  • Chilblains is also more common in people whose body weight is 20 percent below that the normal standards determined by their height
  • Individuals suffering from poorly controlled circulatory system usually have increased sensitivity to temperature changes, thereby leaving them more vulnerable to developing chilblains
  • Cases of chilblains are more prevalent in the period between November and April

Chilblains Treatment

  • Topical steroids can be used to alleviate swelling and itchiness
  • Blisters caused due to an existing case of chilblains are susceptible to infections. Therefore, blistered parts of skin require a high degree of cleanliness
  • Nifedipine is a drug used to treat blood pressure disorders. It is used for opening up the blood vessels and hence is occasionally prescribed by doctors to treat chilblains

The below listed self care measure can also help in alleviating the symptoms of chilblains:

  • Do not subject the affected skin to excess heat, but patients need to make sure that it is kept warm
  • Do not scratch the skin anomalies. Wear warm clothes
  • The extremities have to be always kept comfortably warm. The home and work place should also be kept adequately warm
  • Chilblains affected areas of skin have to be regularly cleaned with an antiseptic soap, even when there are no wounds, to avoid infections.

Chilblains Pictures

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