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Chilblains

Chilblains are small, itchy patches that can appear on your skin after you've been in the cold. They usually clear up on their own. You may need to see a GP if they do not go away.

Check if you have chilblains

Chilblains usually appear a few hours after you've been in the cold.

You mostly get them on your fingers and toes. But you can also get them on your face and legs.

Close-up of chilblains on the toes of a person with white skin. The tips of the toes are swollen and red.
If you have chilblains, your skin can feel itchy or like it's burning.
Chilblains on the toes of a person with dark brown skin. The tips of the toes are swollen and slightly red and purple.
Your fingers or toes may become red, purple or swollen. The redness may be harder to see on brown and black skin.

What you can do about chilblains

Chilblains usually go away on their own in 2 to 3 weeks.

There are some things you can try to get rid of them yourself and stop them coming back.

Do

  • try to avoid being outside when it's cold or damp – if you do go out, wear warm, waterproof clothing, gloves and thick socks

  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease the pain

Don’t

  • do not put your feet or hands on a radiator or under hot water to warm them up

  • do not smoke or have drinks that have caffeine in them – this can affect the flow of blood in your fingers and toes

  • do not scratch or pick at your skin

A pharmacist can help with chilblains

You can ask a pharmacist about:

  • the best painkiller to take
  • creams that can help to soothe the itching
  • if you need to see a GP

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • you have chilblains and your skin has not got any better after 2 to 3 weeks
  • there is pus coming out of your skin
  • your temperature is very high or you feel hot or shivery
  • you keep getting chilblains
  • you have diabetes and have chilblains – foot problems can be more serious if you have diabetes

What happens at your appointment

A GP will check your symptoms to see if you have chilblains.

They may need to refer you for further tests with a specialist if they're not sure why you're getting chilblains.

Rarely, the GP will prescribe a medicine that can help your chilblains clear up.

Causes of chilblains

You can get chilblains when it's cold. The cold makes the tiny blood vessels in your fingers and toes get smaller. This stops blood moving around as easily.

If you warm up too quickly, the blood vessels get bigger again and blood rushes to your fingers and toes. This can cause pain or swelling.

Page last reviewed: 29 July 2022
Next review due: 29 July 2025