Chilblains (also called pernio) are small itchy, red (and sometimes purple) swellings on the skin. They usually cause discomfort and pain and an extreme need to scratch the area.

What causes chilblains?

Chilblains are caused by the skin’s abnormal reaction to cold. They are uncomfortable but rarely cause permanent damage. They develop when the tiny blood vessels under the skin constrict under cold conditions reducing the flow of blood until the area warms up again and causes some leakage of fluid into the surrounding tissue.

What are the treatments for chilblains?

If you think that you have developed chilblains, try not to scratch them. Instead, try using soothing lotions such as witch hazel and calamine to reduce the discomfort.

If the chilblain has ulcerated, apply an antiseptic dressing. If you have diabetes or are undergoing medical treatment, it is important that you have the ulcer assessed by your GP or podiatrist.

How can I prevent chilblains?

The best way to prevent chilblains is to keep your legs, feet and body warm, especially if your circulation is poor and your mobility is limited.
The whole body, rather than just the feet, needs to be kept warm. Trousers, long boots, tights, leg warmers, long socks and gloves will also help.