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From symptoms to treatment: All you need to know about chilblains

The best way to avoid chilblains is to make sure gloves and boots fit well and are dry and clean

Swati Mohan 

Swati Mohan, Consultant, Dermatology 	Fortis Escorts Hospital, Faridabad
Swati Mohan, Consultant, Dermatology Fortis Escorts Hospital, Faridabad

Chilblains, also known as "pernio" or "chill burns", is a medical condition which occurs when an individual is exposed to extreme cold and suffers tissue damage. It is often wrongly confused with frostbite or trench foot. Chilblains can occur in silos, without being indicative of another disease. The main symptoms for Chilblains include damage to the capillary beds in the skin, which causes redness, itching, inflammation and blisters.

Chilblains can be reduced by keeping feet and hands warm in cold weather and avoiding extreme temperature changes. When chilblains occur in infants along with neurological diseases and unexplained fevers, it is called the Aicardi-Goutieres syndrome, a rare inherited condition. Ulcerated chilblains are referred to as "kibbes". The occurrence of Chilblains is about one million cases a year and it is medically treatable.

So, who is susceptible to Chilblains? People who work outside in cold conditions or damp environments, have a family history of chilblains, have a bad diet, have a low body weight, suffer from lupus and those who smoke.

Chilblains usually heals within 7-14 days. It causes blistering of the affected area, burning and itching sensation in extremities, dermatitis in extremities, ulceration (severe cases only), erythema (blanchable redness of the skin), pain in affected area and skin discolouration (from red to dark blue)

Chilblains is not something that people are aware of. It tends to occur very quickly, is painful and causes long term tissue damage. It isn't as bad as frost bite but should be treated with caution. Usually it can occur even if one is exposed to harsh winter weather for a short period of time. During re-warming, the pain factor is extremely high, and it takes several hours for the swelling to go down. Chilblains can cause itching, red patches, swelling, blistering on your hands feet, toes, fingers, heels, ears and nose.

In order to ensure prevention one must avoid rapid changes in temperature (including from cold to hot), wear warm shoes, socks and gloves, wear a hat and a scarf to protect the ears and the nose, avoid tight fitting socks and shoes and exercise at least four times a week to improve blood circulation.

To ensure treatment, a course of vitamin B, especially nicotinic acid, helps improve circulation and may completely treat the chilblains. Soaking the feet in warm water with Epsom salts for 15 to 20 minutes, three to four times a day will help in thawing the chill. Keeping the affected area warm and avoiding any extreme temperature changes (including very hot water). One can also use a topical steroid cream to relieve itch. A vasodilator may help in more severe or recurrent cases. Vasodilation helps reduce pain, facilitate healing and prevent recurrences.

The best way to avoid chilblains is to make sure gloves and boots fit well and are dry and clean. The best treatment is to warn the affected area with tepid but not hot, water, as sudden temperature change may worsen it.

Consultant, Dermatology Fortis Escorts Hospital, Faridabad

First Published: Sat, January 04 2020. 23:23 IST