Last Modified on Jun 19, 2014
What Are Chilblains?
Also known as pernio and perniosis, chilblains are a medical condition that typically affects the extremities. Often confused with frostbite and trench foot, chilblains are actually the result of the skin suddenly warming after being exposed to cold temperatures for an extended period. The result of this sudden increase in temperature is painful inflammation of the small blood vessels, otherwise known as chilblains.
This painful condition is characterized by several common symptoms. Chilblains can cause itching, red skin patches, and swelling and blistering. The condition typically effects the extremities or the toes, fingers, nose, and ears. Additional effects of the condition include burning sensation in the skin, changing color in the skin, additional pain, and possible ulceration.
The specific cause of chilblains is unknown; however, the condition is believed to be caused by the body’s abnormal reaction to the repeated exposure to the cold followed by rewarming the body. The action of warming the cold skin causes the small blood vessels to expand normally; however, in the case of an abnormal reaction, the small vessels may expand more quickly than the adjacent larger blood vessels can facilitate, cause a “bottleneck” situation and the resulting blood leakage into nearby tissues.
Natural Remedies for Chilblains
While chilblains do not typically cause permanent injury and is a condition that may get better on its own, the condition can be particularly painful and can also lead to infection and more serious complications if left untreated. Natural remedies are particularly effective for treating this type of condition. Applying aloe vera, propolis, and manuka honey applied topically can alleviate symptoms of the condition and cure the chilblains entirely. Applying black pepper essential oil is a natural treatment for the itch associated with chilblains while applying coconut oil, lavender, and tea tree oil also relieve the pain and remedy the condition. It is also important to prevent future recurrence of the disorder by avoiding the cold, dressing warmly and making sure the extremities are well protected when in the cold.
Continue reading below for more tips from our readers!
01/12/2013: Wednesday from Tokyo, Japan: "Do you apply the propolis to the affected area or drink it? I have propolis (the kind you drink, 1 tsp a day)."
[YEA] 06/10/2011: Lu from Brisbane, Australia: "I had a look at your site for chilblain remedies and noted that you only have limited suggestions. I used aloe vera gel on my toes and it started to disappear in two days.
Another suggestion would be to use propolis (liquid extract) as it is a very powerful healer as well. If all else fails I would try Manuka honey but since it is the most expensive, leave it till last.
01/05/2011: Susan from Dublin, Ireland: "I would like to add to the other comments by saying that I found essential oil of black pepper to be very effective for the awful itch of chilblains. You can put it on neat and it will take away the itch (I think that's similar to the "treat like with like", ie obviously the pepper is hot and so are the chilblains). Don't get near eyes! You can also rub in a carrier oil and then add a few drops of black pepper oil. Also, exercise - jumping up and down, a rebounder, skipping etc. Get the blood flowing. Get a basin of cold water and step in and out, or run your feet under the cold tap, then put on the oil, put on lightweight socks and start jumping!"
[YEA] 12/18/2012: Miss from Edinburgh, Scotland: "I made a homemade hand cream from coconut oil, aloe vera and emulsifying wax (bees wax). One Tbsp of each, stirred together in a bowl over a pot of hot water. Each night and morning I would put one drop each of lavender and tea tree essential oil in the palm of my hand - and half a tsp of my coconut hand cream. I would massage it slowly and firmly and gently onto both hands. The massage would take about 5 minutes. I paid particular attention to my nail beds, and finger tips. The chilblains were terrible, but after a week of this my fingers were warmer, healthier and without pain. I wore cotton gloves to bed, at night, to allow the cream to better absorb.
I am so happy with the result. I'd tried all sorts of other things prior to this - with no result at all."
[YEA] 02/12/2010: P.b. from Sydney, Cape Breton: "Severely itchy toes & heels
Hello all, After suffering from this on and off for a year, comments on another forum finally helped me figure out I had chillblains and I thought I would share my experience. Maybe there is higher awareness in other parts of the world but I had never heard of this before and it certainly seemed to be off the radar for the 4 docs. I saw too.
This starts as a severe localized itch usually one one toe, with no mark, but develops into severe itch on most toes, which become swollen, shiny, red and sometimes purple in spots, and severely itchy. There may be flat blister-type things and small spots as well, on the toes and possibly heels. This all happens at the tips of the toes and back of heel, NOT between the toes. I can't describe how awful the itchiness is, it is truly debilitating, preventing you from going out comfortably, and from sleeping.
I saw 4 doctors and was diagnosed with fungal, bacterial and viral infections but the medications didn't help. Meanwhile I was trying to get relief from the itch from soaking my feet in ice water and hot water as hot as I could stand. I was convinced it was a kind of infection and even resorted to putting bleach on my toes. In desperation I scoured the internet one night unable to sleep and finally considered chillblains.
Chillblains are caused by poor circulation and temperature changes the feet are exposed to (some people get this in their fingers too apparently). Despite living in cold Canada, no doctor ever raised this as a possibility with me! I considered myself fit and active but do sit at a desk in a cold room every day and have low bp. I thought it'd be worth a try to see if the chillblain treatments helped. Within a day, my feet felt 100% better though they still looked bad. The trick with chillblains is that once you have them, warming your feet causes them to itch (this is why I kept thinking the "infection" was spreading). Treating the itch with ice and hot water and going barefoot worsened the condition.
The recommended treatment is to elevate your feet to help with swelling, keep your feet warm but avoid temperature extremes, use calamine lotion for the itch or hydrocortisone (though this didn't help me). Vicks vaporub seemed to help too. Exercise that promotes circulation helped, if the itch started I would go for a brisk walk and it would resolve soon after.
If you're not sure about whether you have this, you could try this approach for a day or two - the results will show up that fast! The redness and swelling go down and itching episodes decrease. I thought I would go mad as despite tons of research I could never find a fungal infection that manifested this way, and then the images of chillblains online looked exactly like what I had.
That said, there are bacterial infections that manifest in a similar way and I'm sure other things too, so as with anything it's always worth checking in with a doc. first."
01/06/2011: Francisca from Michelbach-le-bas, France replies: "For many years I have only had chillblains on my feet (as a teenager I had them in my hands as well). This year luckily I had none, maybe it has something to do with the age but what I always did was bathe my feet one minute in very hot water and 30 seconds in cold water ending with hot. Usually one bath would finish them off for the whole of the winter! I hope this helps..."
07/21/2011: Francisca from Michelbach-le-bas, Alsace, France replies: "What a great idea, Bill.... I was very much affected by chillblains when I was a child as well. Nowadays I sometimes get them on my feet, not too bad but still bothersome! I bathe my feet 1 min in hot water and then 30 seconds in cold water (more or less, you don't need to be precise). Usually one bath does the trick but coming winter I will try the onion!"
[YEA] 12/31/2013: Jay from Warrenville,il replies: "Thanks for sharing this after you got well. I have the same exact symptoms and I was deeply worried about infections, gout, etc which are difficult to treat. Perhaps if I had gone to a doc they would have prescribed some antibiotics thinking it some infection. We people with internet can be better in diagnosis. Once again, thanks for sharing"
[YEA] 06/19/2014: Christian from South Australia: "Every winter I would get annoying chilblain....until by luck I found out that if I stop consuming dairy and gluten products I would not get the chilblains during that winter....no matter how cold it was;) Don't ask me why it works....I just know that it does for me! Maybe give it a shot and have a chilblain-free winter!!!!"
02/15/2010: Tricia from Ireland: "I remember the awful combo of the itch and pain. I had chillblains in the arch of my foot and the only relief I could get was to stand at the bottom of the stairs and rub my foot on the carpet jumping from one foot to the other till I cut the skin or my mother caught me - whichever came first.
Bathing my feet with mustard powder was what helped me. This seemingly heated the skin closer to the level of the blood vessels and created less constriction. Use a tablespoon to start in a basin of water and go up if it doesn't increase to heat in you skin. One person I know that this remedy also helped used 1/4/tsp mustard powder and a tsp of vaseline and rubbed it on his feet instead of putting it into water.
DO NOT USE this remedy if the chillblains have cut your skin as the mustard powder will burn. The chillblains disappeared at some stage in my teens - never to return."
07/21/2011: Bill from Gisborne, New Zealand: "As a child I sufferd from chilblains, my dad told me of an old cure for this ailment. I thought this remedy was nonsense and was sceptical of trying it. The pain and itching got the better of me so I relented and tried it and it works...... Cut 1 onion and rub over affected area. the symtoms disapear quikly, keep the onion in a zip lock bag and use as required"
[YEA] 05/03/2011: Steven from Fryeburg, Maine: "Hemorriod cream appied to affected areas, also to areas that are known to give problems as a preventive messure. Wear cotton socks and merino wool socks over them. Buy shoes for the cold weather months sized for the extra socks. This has brought relief to me."
[YEA] 03/30/2014: Mary from Utica, Ny: "Chilblains Treatment: My husband has suffered with red, raw toes for years. This occurs only in the winter time. While researching this site there was no doubt he has Chilblains. We started trying different suggestions. Peppermint oil, helped. Went to health food store they suggested neem oil. We mixed the two oils together, applied twice each day. Unbelievably, redness is gone and so is the pain. He will keep applying till cold weather is over."
[YEA] 01/11/2012: Arietta from Chania, Crete, Greece: "Adding a cup of sea salt or epsom salt to a foot bath helps tremendously the chilblains. Just have to do it like twice a day for 5-6 days and they'll pretty much be gone depending in the severity. Eating a non-inflammatory diet helps as well."
[YEA] 03/29/2013: Joey L from Oxford, Uk: "I have got to share this nugget of wisdom I have found for relieving chilblains...
Selica Gel. The packets you get when you buy new items, to keep them dry. Put some in your socks and wear them. This has gotten me through a working day on my feet without aggravating the soreness, and I believe it helps clear up the condition from keeping the feet from getting too humid/wet."
[YEA] 02/10/2012: Christine from Nottingham, England: "I remember when we were children and suffered with nasty chilblains our mum would get us to soak our feet in urine. I do not remeber how long we did it for. It was a long time ago, but it did work. The old folk knew a thing or two in those days. Good luck"
02/12/2010: Eva from Amsterdam, Netherlands: "I had this too, until I was told that urine will make it go away. Before you go to bed put some of your own urine on your toes (or affected area). I did not wash it off, but put socks on before I went to sleep. Did this about 6 times and forgot about it, until I realized about a month later that my toes were not bothering me anymore."
[YEA] 02/01/2013: Lanna from Wichita, Kansas: "My 12 year old son has been suffering from chilblains on his toes. He has cerebral palsy and is nonverbal, so is unable to really tell us what is wrong. We first noticed that he was having difficulty walking. It wasn't until his toes swelled up and turned red/bluish that we could narrow it down to chilblains. His feet were very cold to the touch also. The pain was the most difficult as it got so bad that he refused to walk at all.
As I was searching for ideas to help him I came across somebody who mentioned that years ago they were given vitamin K tablets by their doctor and it had cleared it up. I googled "chilblains and vitamin K" and came across an article from 1947 on the NIH website that claimed success with vitamin K. At this point I figured I had nothing to lose - my son's toes were looking quite bad and he was miserable - and there wasn't much the doctor could do.
I happened to have a store brand of Advanced K2 Complex capsules on hand. I gave the first dose before bedtime that night and then did two doses a day after that. By that afternoon he was up and walking. Still a little tender, but the swelling had gone down and obviously the pain was much improved. We are now on day three and he is almost back to normal. I was so happy to see these results that I had to share."
02/12/2013: Amb from Des Moines, Iowa replies: "Thanks for sharing Lanna. I'm going to get some vitamin K tomorrow! I had a red bump on the top of my 2nd toe... Started about 3 weeks ago. I thought I got bit by a spider in the night. Then after a few days it was the same red and swollen blister like on my little toe and the 2nd toe on the other foot. They really got itchy and burned. I refused to scratch it. Drove me crazy! My toes have been really cold lately too! I tried some antifungral cream cause I thought it was athletes foot. Although it was on the tops of my toes.... Didn't look like athletes foot. The creame sorta helped the itch for a little while. After about 2 weeks I decided enough was enough and go to the doctor. She agreed and said athletes foot and gave me an oral antifungral. After a week from that, still nothing. The only relief I have gotten is by soaking my feet in water I boiled ginger root in. I am convinced it's chilblains and not athletes foot. I just started taking ginger root, cayenne and hawthorn berry supplements. As they improve circulation. I am also using a topical cayenne and ginger ointment and tea tree oil. Getting relief from that also. I thing massaging it in helps. I am going to add the vitamin K to the mix. Guess if anything, I should have better circulation to work out!"
03/22/2013: Lanna from Wichita, Kansas replies: "Amb - Wow... You have tried a lot of things. I am curious if you think the vitamin K helped at all? I hope that you found something that worked for you."