Chilblains

Chilblains, also called perniosis, is a cold injury that causes skin lesions. The extremities, including the ears, nose, fingers and toes are particularly vulnerable to this condition.

Causes

Chilblains result primarily from prolonged exposure to cold damp conditions (wearing wet clothing).

Signs and symptoms

The most common symptoms associated with chilblains include:

  • Pain, tingling or numbness in the affected area ·
  • White, waxy-looking skin that is cold and hard to the touch ·
  • Once thawed, the skin may become red, tender and blistered

Intervention

  • Do not rub, scratch, apply snow, cold water or heat directly on the lesion as this could damage the frozen skin
  • Remove anything that could constrict the injury (glove, shoe, jewellery, etc.)
  • Gradually warm the affected area with body heat or wrap in a blanket ·
  • Cover any blisters with a bandage
  • Take medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®) to help alleviate any pain

If symptoms do not improve, see a doctor.

Prevention

In cold climates, wearing several layers of clothing made from tightly woven fibres (wool) or synthetic fibres (fleece) is key. Do not wear cotton. It is also important to protect and cover body parts that are more susceptible. When planning outdoor activities in cold weather, bring a change of clothing.

Drink plenty of hot fluids as this can help the body retain its heat. If drinking hot liquids is not an option, drink plenty of water. Avoid alcohol and caffeine (beverages that can cause dehydration) since they prevent the body from adequately maintaining its temperature. And lastly, stop frequently to warm up. This may help you get through short periods of exposure to cold.

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