What are chilblains?

Chilblains are the painful inflammation of the small bloodvessels in the skin. They occur in response when the skin is suddenly warmed after exposure to cold temperatures. This inflammation causes red patches, itching, swelling and even blistering of the skin.

Symptoms of chilblains

Chilblains typically occur on the toes, fingers, ears and nose. The changes in skin color range from red to purple and even blue. The pain and itching may be intense. Blisters may form that result in skin defects (ulcers) that are usually slow in healing.

What is the cause of chilblains?

The cause of chilblains is not exactly known. The may be an abnormal reaction of the vessels and the immunesystem to exposure to cold temperatures and subsequent rewarming of the skin. Being underweight and having a poor circulation may be additional risk factors.




To reduce the risk of developing chilblains, persons at risk should avoid exposure to (extreme) cold whenever possible. If it happens that the skin was exposed try to warm the skin gradually, but keep away from sources of heat. These may increase the problems rather than eleviate them. Clean skin defects with antiseptic and bandage them properly. If you suspect infection of the skin it is important to consult your doctor.

Further reading
Bergersen TK et al: Acral coldness – severely reduced blood flow to fingers and toes. Handb Clin Neurol. 2018;157:677-685