Last Modified on Feb 15, 2015
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!
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Do you apply the propolis to the affected area or drink it? I have propolis (the kind you drink, 1 tsp a day).
[YEA] 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.
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] 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] 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.
Replied by Francisca