Chilblains are the painful inflammation of small blood vessels in your skin that occur in response to sudden warming from cold temperatures. It can cause itching, red patches, swelling and blistering on extremities, such as on your toes and fingers. They can lead to infection, which may cause severe damage if left untreated.
Signs and symptoms of chilblains may include:
- Itchy red areas on your feet or hands
- Possible blistering
- Swelling of your skin
- Burning sensation on your skin
- Red to dark blue toes
When to see a doctor
If the pain becomes too severe or the affected skin begins to look as if it might be infected, a doctor can help you treat it more effectively. Also, make sure to seek medical attention if your skin doesn't improve after a week or two. If you have poor circulation or diabetes, see a doctor immediately after discovering chilblains to prevent possible complications.
The exact reason chilblains occur is unknown. They may be an abnormal reaction of your body to cold exposure followed by rewarming. Rewarming of cold skin can cause small blood vessels under the skin to expand more quickly than nearby larger blood vessels can handle, resulting in a "bottleneck" effect and the blood leaking into nearby tissues.
Chilblains may cause complications if your skin blisters. If that happens, you may develop ulcers and infections. Besides being painful, infections are potentially life-threatening if left untreated. See a doctor if you suspect infection.