Chilblains - Symptoms

What are the symptoms of chilblains?

Chilblains occur several hours after being exposed to the cold. You may get just one chilblain but often several develop. They may join together to form a larger swollen, red area of skin.

Chilblains are very itchy. A burning sensation is also typical. They are usually red at first but may become purple. Pain and tenderness over the chilblains often develop.

Common places for chilblains to develop are:

  • Fingers
  • Toes
  • Ear lobes
  • Nose
  • Cheeks
  • Heels
  • Shins
  • Thighs
  • Hips

Typically, each chilblain lasts for about seven days and then, gradually, goes away over a week or so. Some people have repeated bouts of chilblains each winter.

Are there any complications of chilblains?

Usually there are no complications, and the chilblains vanish in time without trace. Some complications which occasionally occur are described below.

  • You may develop an infection in the skin affected by the chilblain. This is more common if you scratch it. This allows the germs that are normally harmlessly present on the skin to get inside the skin.
  • In some cases the skin over a chilblain may blister which may delay healing.
  • Occasionally, the skin breaks down to leave a small ulcer which is prone to infection.
  • In some cases chilblains can become persistent (chronic). This usually occurs in people who are repeatedly exposed to cold conditions. The skin becomes scarred over time. It may develop a different colour to the rest of the skin around it.

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  • Chilblains; NICE CKS, August 2013 (UK access only)
  • Gordon R, Arikian AM, Pakula AS; Chilblains in Southern California: two case reports and a review of the literature. J Med Case Rep. 2014 Nov 22 8:381. doi: 10.1186/1752-1947-8-381.
  • Chilblains; DermNet NZ
  • Almahameed A, Pinto DS; Pernio (chilblains). Curr Treat Options Cardiovasc Med. 2008 Apr 10(2):128-35.
  • Ozmen M, Kurtoglu V, Can G, et al; The capillaroscopic findings in idiopathic pernio: is it a microvascular disease? Mod Rheumatol. 2013 Sep 23(5):897-903. doi: 10.1007/s10165-012-0768-9. Epub 2012 Sep 24.
Dr Mary Harding
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Hannah Gronow
Document ID:
4583 (v42)
Last Checked:
03 July 2016
Next Review:
03 July 2019

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.