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Chilblains are itchy and/or tender red or purple bumps that occur as a reaction to cold. The condition is also known as pernio or perniosis, and is a localised form of vasculitis.

Children and the elderly are most often affected. In children recurrences each winter for a few years are common but complete recovery is usual. Chilblains in elderly people have a tendency to get worse every year unless precipitating factors are avoided.

Chilblains are due to blood vessel shut-down in cold conditions. They occur several hours after exposure to the cold in temperate humid climates. They are sometimes aggravated by sun exposure. Cold causes constriction of the small arteries and veins in the skin and rewarming results in leakage of blood into the tissues and swelling of the skin.

Chilblains are less common in countries where the cold is more extreme because the air is drier and people have specially designed living conditions and clothing.

Chilblains are more likely to develop in those with poor peripheral circulation i.e. blue-red mottled skin on the limbs. In some cases they are due to connective tissue disease, particularly lupus erythematosus.

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