Chilblains, also called hinge , are red to purple bumps that appear on the skin of the extremities, usually on the hands and feet, after exposure to cold. They are more common in women, children and the elderly and result from constriction of the blood vessels that supply the extremities.
One might think that chilblains occur under the same conditions as freezing, which is around 5 degrees F (-15 C). In reality, the damage caused by chilblains is not permanent and can occur in warmer climates. Keeping the extremities warm using gloves and warm shoes tends to prevent the condition. Chilblains are not as common in extremely cold climates because people tend to be prepared to deal with the cold by wearing warm clothing. Areas that have occasional periods of cold weather generally have a higher incidence of chilblains. In addition, areas where people cannot afford warm clothes have a higher prevalence of the disease.
There are some factors that make a person more predisposed to having chilblains. People with poor circulation due to smoking or conditions like lupus may be more susceptible. Poor nutrition, bone marrow disorders, or a family history of chilblains can also put one more at risk. People with diabetes can be particularly prone to chilblains and should always seek medical attention for chilblains present on their feet.
While chilblains usually occur on the hands and feet, people can also get them on the lower legs and thighs, and on the nose or ears. Babies can have them on their wrists. The bumps may itch or be very tender to the touch. Severe cases can also cause the skin to blister, resembling a second to third degree burn in appearance. The bumps and blisters tend to go away within a week or two.
Chilblains are usually treated with corticosteroid cream to reduce itching. However, they can become infected, which is why many dermatologists also recommend using an antibiotic cream. Sometimes infected chilblains require oral antibiotics. Symptoms of infection include red streaks from chilblains, a feeling of heat and pressure at the measles site, and signs of pus or foul odor.
The best way to prevent chilblains is to keep warm on cold days. Consider gloves or mittens, airtight shoes, warm socks, scarves, and hats. Keep homes warm, as chilblains can occur both indoors and outdoors. Using sunscreen, even on cloudy days, can also help prevent chilblains.