Hello, my name is Gregory. When I was a young lad, I had to enter the health care world in an unexpected way. I developed a serious disease out of the blue that took doctors by surprise. I went through so many different testing procedures before my doctors could diagnose the rare disease. Everyone around me reeled as they tried to understand the purpose and process of the diagnostic tests. I hope to help others understand these important tests better through this website. Please come by often to learn all you need to know about medical diagnostics and working closely with health care professionals.
Chilblains, also known as pernio or perniosis, is a skin condition characterized by patches of itchy, discolored skin. These patches are associated with cold temperatures and poor circulation. Here are four things you need to know about chilblains.
What are the signs of chilblains?
Chilblains presents as painful red or purple lesions; these lesions are both swollen and itchy. The lesions form shortly after your skin is exposed to the cold. Ulcers or blisters may form on top of the lesions. Often, these lesions form on the extremities such as the hands and feet, though they can also develop on the ears or nose. The thighs and buttocks can also sometimes be affected by chilblains. The lesions tend to develop symmetrically. If you notice the development of these lesions, see a dermatologist.
What causes chilblains?
Chilblains occurs due to an abnormal cold-related vascular response. When your skin's temperature changes, your veins constrict for a prolonged period of time. This constriction leads to hypoxemia, a too-low level of oxygen in your blood. This, in turn, leads to inflammation of your skin, which presents as chilblains.
In more than half of patients, this response is idiopathic. This means that researchers don't know why it happens. In between 20% and 40% of patients, the response is linked to systemic health problems like lupus, antiphospholipid syndrome or leukemia.
Your dermatologist will need to order blood tests to determine if your chilblains are caused by an underlying health condition. These blood tests include a complete blood count and testing for antinuclear or antiphospholipid antibodies. In addition to these tests, your dermatologist may want to take a biopsy of your lesions. A biopsy is done to confirm that that the lesions aren't skin cancer masquerading as chilblains.
Are chilblains serious?
If your condition is idiopathic, the main concern is that the lesions will become blistered or ulcerated. These blisters or ulcers can then become infected. Infections can be avoided by keeping the lesions clean and bandaged.
If your condition is caused by an underlying health problem, that condition is the main concern. If your dermatologist thinks that you've developed chilblains secondary to a more serious problem, you'll be sent to your family doctor for further testing and treatment.
How are chilblains treated?
Chilblains will go away without treatment in one to three weeks, though since the lesions are uncomfortable, treatments are available to ease the symptoms. Both home remedies and medical treatments are available, depending on the severity of your symptoms.
At home, try to avoid exposing yourself to cold and ensure that your affected skin is kept warm and dry. Apply lotion to your chilblains to relieve itching and try to avoid scratching the area. Clean the lesions with an antiseptic solution and then bandage them; this is important because the lesions could become infected.
If home remedies aren't enough, your dermatologist can offer medical treatments. You may be prescribed topical steroids to decrease the inflammation in the affected skin and ease both the itch and swelling. Vasodilators—medications that widen your blood vessels—can also be used to treat chilblains.
To prevent future occurrences of chilblains, keep yourself warm. Turn up your thermostat at home and at work and wear layers of clothing to hold in your body heat. When you go outdoors in cold weather, cover as much of your skin as possible. Wear a hat, mittens, thick socks and other weather-appropriate clothing to protect your skin from the cold.
If you develop red or purple itchy, painful lesions after exposing your skin to cold temperatures, you may have chilblains and should see a dermatologist at a general dermatology clinic. Your dermatologist can diagnose and treat the condition.