How Do You Treat Chilblains on Fingers?

Medically Reviewed on 4/7/2022

3 ways to treat chilblains on fingers

chilblain on finger
Three ways to treat chilblains on your fingers include taking lifestyle measures, medications, and light therapy.

Three ways to treat chilblains on fingers include:

  1. Lifestyle measures:
    • Gradually warm your hands by moving to a warmer place, wearing warm gloves, or using hand warmers.
    • Avoid rubbing, massaging, or scratching your hands.
    • Avoid direct heat application.
    • Wear proper gloves and other protective clothing in a cold environment to keep yourself warm.
    • Avoid wearing gloves that are too tight because they can limit blood flow and worsen the symptoms.
    • Avoid staying or working in damp or cold conditions.
    • Soak your hands in warm water before anticipated cold exposure.
    • Remove your gloves, socks, or other clothing if they get damp, and change into dry and warm clothing as soon as possible.
    • Ensure that your house is warm and dry.
    • Avoid/quit smoking.
    • Stay physically active to ensure proper blood flow to your hands and feet that will keep them warm.
  2. Medications:
    • Topical nitroglycerine
    • Topical steroids such as betamethasone
    • Oral nifedipine
    • Antibiotics (these may be prescribed if there are signs of skin infection such as pus formation)
  3. Light therapy: It involves treatment with intense pulsed light. Light therapy may help relieve redness.

What causes chilblains?

Chilblains, also called pernio or perniosis, is a skin condition caused by the inflammation of the small blood vessels (vasculitis) in the skin on exposure to cold, damp but not freezing conditions.

  • On exposure to cold, there is narrowing (constriction) of the small blood vessels under the skin.
  • This results in reduced oxygen supply and inflammation in the affected area.
  • When the affected area is rewarmed, these blood vessels may widen, causing leakage of blood that causes swelling and irritation of the skin.

What exactly causes chilblains is unknown. However, they may result due to some underlying health conditions.

When no underlying cause is known, they are called primary chilblains. When chilblains occur as a result of some underlying health condition (such as peripheral arterial diseases or lupus), they are called secondary chilblains.

Certain genetic or hormonal factors may make some people more prone to develop chilblains.


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What are the risk factors for chilblains on fingers?

Some of the conditions that may increase your likelihood of having chilblains include:

  • Age (more common in middle-aged adults and rare in children)
  • Gender (women are at a higher risk of chilblains than men)
  • Smoking
  • Poor nutrition or being underweight
  • Hormonal changes
  • Wearing tight gloves
  • Certain occupations that require exposure to frequent cold, damp conditions such as farmers, mountaineers, and fishermen
  • Genetics (having a family history of chilblains)
  • Certain underlying conditions (such as Raynaud’s disease and lupus)

What do chilblains on fingers look like?

Chilblains on fingers typically last for one to three weeks. They may start on one finger but later involve other fingers as well.

Chilblains on fingers may cause the following symptoms:

  • Small itchy bumps on the fingers 
  • Presence of vesicles (small fluid-filled bumps) that may later form bigger fluid-filled bumps or bullae
  • Pustules (pus-filled bumps that indicate the presence of infection)
  • Swollen skin of the affected fingers
  • Pain, tingling, or burning sensation on the affected fingers
  • Redness or dark bluish skin color
  • Thick, scaly, or crusting skin

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Medically Reviewed on 4/7/2022
Image Source: iStock Images,inflammation%20in%20these%20exposed%20areas.