Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Chilblains are small, red or purple patches that develop on your skin in reaction to being cold. Find out more about the symptoms, and how to treat and prevent them.

What are chilblains?

Chilblains are small red or purple lumps or patches that are caused by your body’s reaction to cold weather. You’ll usually get them on your fingers, toes, nose or ears, and they tend to appear a few hours after you’ve spent time in the cold. They usually go away on their own after a few weeks.

What are the symptoms of chilblains?

They key symptoms include:

  • Red or purple lumps or patches on your skin

  • A feeling that your skin is itchy or burning

These lumps can occasionally develop into a blister.

How common are chilblains?

About 1 in 10 people will get chilblains at some point in their life.

Who’s at risk of chilblains?

Certain groups of people have risk factors that make them more vulnerable to chilblains, these include:

  • People who have a poor diet or are underweight 

  • Older people 

  • Smokers

  • People who have poor circulation

  • People with lupus or Raynaud’s syndrome

  • People who are on beta blocker medications

What causes chilblains?

Chilblains are caused by the narrowing of our small blood vessels in response to cold weather. This means that certain areas of the body have a reduced blood supply. When the area warms up again, the blood vessels enlarge so they can become inflamed and swollen – causing chilblains. 

Certain medications like beta blockers can cause chilblains so it’s best to speak to a doctor if you’re worried.

How are chilblains diagnosed?

A doctor will sometimes need to do a physical examination to take a closer look, but chilblains are usually diagnosed based on your symptoms. 

You may be referred to a specialist or for additional tests if a doctor thinks they may be caused by something more serious, like peripheral vascular disease – a blood circulation disorder.

How should I treat chilblains?

If you have chilblains there are a few things that help soothe them:

  • Avoid tight clothing that rubs and cover chilblains with a loose, dry dressing

  • A pharmacist or doctor may recommend a steroid cream to reduce the itchiness and soreness 

  • They may also recommend a soothing cream to reduce the feeling of burning if you have it

How can I prevent chilblains?

Try to keep as warm as possible when in cold temperatures – wear warm jumpers, trousers, socks, gloves and a scarf. You should cover up the whole of your body, not just the bits that are vulnerable to chilblains. 

Try not go from a very cold to very warm environment quickly (like getting in a hot shower immediately or putting your hands on the radiator after being out in the cold) because this can make chilblains worse. Instead, aim to gradually warm up the skin over a longer period of time.

When should I speak to a doctor?

Most people will be able to manage chilblains using simple, self-care strategies. 

However, you should speak to a doctor if:

  • Your chilblains don’t go away after 2-3 weeks

  • You’re on beta-blocker medications and you’re worried about chilblains

  • Your chilblains have blistered and broken into ulcers 

  • You have constantly icy hands and feet

What can Livi do?

Livi’s healthcare professionals can discuss your symptoms and take a look at your chilblains. If appropriate, they can prescribe something to help with the pain or soreness.


Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi