• Disease Overview
  • Synonyms
  • Signs & Symptoms
  • Causes
  • Affected Populations
  • Disorders with Similar Symptoms
  • Diagnosis
  • Standard Therapies
  • Clinical Trials and Studies
  • References
  • Programs & Resources
  • Complete Report



Last updated: March 23, 2020
Years published: 1989, 1997, 2005, 2020


NORD gratefully acknowledges Amarachi Okafor, BS, PharmD Candidate, NORD Editorial Intern from the Keck Graduate Institute, and Julie Truong, PharmD, BCACP, MACM, Associate Professor of Clinical and Administrative Sciences at Keck Graduate Institute School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, for assistance in the preparation of this report.

Disease Overview


Perniosis is a seasonal inflammatory disorder that is triggered by prolonged exposure to cold and damp (humid) conditions. It usually occurs when the weather is cold and the humidity is high, especially during late fall and winter. It is a form of inflammation of the small blood vessels (vasculitis) that is characterized by painful, itchy, tender, skin injuries (lesions) on the lower legs, hands, toes, feet, ears and face. The lesions typically appear 12-24 hours after exposure to cold and usually last for two to three weeks. It may last for years if left untreated and cold exposure persists. Some individuals experience complete or partial resolution in the summer months, but in some individuals, symptoms may persist even into the warmer months.

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  • chilblains
  • cold induced vascular disease
  • erythema, pernio
  • pernio
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Signs & Symptoms

Perniosis is characterized by inflammation of the small blood vessels caused by an abnormal reaction to the cold. It is characterized by a bluish-red discoloration of the skin that can cause pain, intense itching, burning/stinging, and swelling of the skin, especially as the body becomes warmer. The discoloration usually occurs on the fingers, toes, lower legs, heels, ears and nose; rarely it can appear on the thighs and buttocks. In severely affected individuals, there may be blister-like lesions (bullae) which may become ulcers if rubbed or irritated. This may result in infections or even scarring upon healing.

Perniosis of the thighs is a form of perniosis that more commonly affects young females who wear tight fitting pants. It is characterized by red or bluish patches (plaques) on the skin. These plaques are distributed on the upper hip region and on the outside of the thighs and can cause swelling, burning, itching and occasionally ulceration.

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The exact cause of perniosis is unclear. It may be due to a root cause (primary), a consequence of a primary disease (secondary), such as a connective tissue disease or from abnormal proteins in the blood, or a disease of unknown causes (idiopathic). One hypothesis is that cold weather causes the small veins and arteries close to the skin to tighten or constrict. When the tissues are rewarmed, blood leaks into the tissue and causes the skin to swell. The swelling irritates the nerves and can cause pain. It is thought by some that the disorder may represent an allergic reaction or hypersensitivity to the cold. Prolonged exposure to the cold, insufficient protective clothing, and circulatory or cardiovascular diseases may also be causative factors. Tight clothing may decrease blood flow to the affected area causing a decrease in the skin’s temperature. Some cases are believed to be caused by genetic factors. Other suspected causes include nutrition, local infection, hormonal changes, and other systemic diseases. In the elderly, perniosis may be associated with an underlying systemic disease.

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Affected populations

The incidence of perniosis is currently uncertain. Perniosis is seen more often in females than in males. More specifically, it is seen more often in women who are very thin or who have a low body mass index. Several articles in the medical literature focus on cases of perniosis in anorexic women. Individuals who smoke long-term or with poor circulation, are affected more frequently than the general population. This condition is more common in cold, damp climates than in dry ones. Many cases have been reported from Western Europe but cases have also been reported in the late winter to early spring in the coastal areas of North America. Symptoms usually begin before the age of 20 years. It does not commonly occur in children and elderly people.

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Diagnosis is determined by ruling out other conditions or diseases.

Clinical Evaluations and Workup
The clinician will assess the individual for a history of prolonged cold exposure and conduct a physical examination, including a full skin examination to check for painful, itchy, red skin lesions on the extremities. An echocardiogram may be performed if an acute embolism is suspected. The clinician will also conduct a close examination of the process of rewarming the affected areas. The lesions should be self-limiting and resolve upon rewarming. The patient is also screened for autoimmune markers. Blood tests including a complete blood count, antinuclear antibodies, cryoglobulins, cryofibrinogen, cold agglutinins, antiphospholipid antibodies, and serum protein electrophoresis are performed to rule out other conditions. Skin biopsies are performed if the condition persists and an underlying systemic inflammatory disease is suspected.

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Standard Therapies

First-line treatment and management of perniosis, consists of protecting the body from the cold and warming the affected areas slowly. For example, patients may benefit from wearing layered warm clothing, gloves, and socks. Individuals with perniosis should avoid scratching or rubbing the affected area to help avoid further damage to the skin.

Treatment with medications is second-line, and limited efficacy has been shown. The calcium channel blocker drug nifedipine (Adalat) may be an effective treatment for severe cases in decreasing the duration, severity, and recurrence of the lesions. Nifedipine works by widening the blood vessels. Patients given extended-release nifedipine, taken 20 mg three times daily, reported fast symptom improvement. Topical corticosteroids, such as topical mometasone or betamethasone, may help relieve the intense itching.

Treatment with intense pulsed light has been shown to reduce redness.

Patients are also encouraged to stop smoking because smoking decreases the amount of oxygen delivered to wounds and slows down the healing process.

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Clinical Trials and Studies

Information on current clinical trials is posted on the Internet at www.clinicaltrials.gov. All studies receiving U.S. government funding, and some supported by private industry, are posted on this government website.

For information about clinical trials being conducted at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, contact the NIH Patient Recruitment Office:

Toll free: (800) 411-1222
TTY: (866) 411-1010
Email: [email protected]

Some current clinical trials also are posted on the following page on the NORD website:

For information about clinical trials sponsored by private sources, contact:

For information about clinical trials conducted in Europe, contact:

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Souwer IH, Bor JH, Smits P, Lagro-Janssen AL. Assessing the effectiveness of topical betamethasone to treat chronic chilblains: a randomised clinical trial in primary care. British Journal of General Practice. 2017;67(656). doi:10.3399/bjgp17x689413.

Souwer IH, Bor JHJ, Smits P, Lagro-Janssen ALM. Nifedipine vs Placebo for Treatment of Chronic Chilblains: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Annals of Family Medicine. 2016;14(5):453-459. doi:10.1370/afm.1966.

Antonio AM, Alves JM, Matos DM, Coelho RM. Idiopathic perniosis of the buttocks and thighs – clinical report. Dermatology Online Journal. 2015;21(1):3.

Akkurt ZM, Ucmak D, Yildiz K, Kutlu YS, Yürüker CH. Chilblains in Turkey: a case-control study. Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia. 2014;89(1):44-50. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/abd1806-4841.20142376.

Gomes MM. Perniosis. BMJ Case Reports. 2014. doi:10.1136/bcr-2014- 203732.

Gordon R, Arikian AM, Pakula AS. Chilblains in Southern California: two case reports and a review of the literature. Journal of Medical Case Reports. 2014;8:381.

Neal AJ, Jarman AM, Bennett TG. Perniosis in a long-distance cyclist crossing Mongolia. Journal of Travel Medicine. 2012;19(1):66-68. doi:10.1111/j.1708-8305.2011.00574.x.

Tonoli RE, Souza PRM. Case for diagnosis. Chilblains. Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia. 2012;87(4):649-650.

Vano-Galvan S, Martorell A. Chilblains. CMAJ. 2012;184(1). doi:10.1503 /cmaj.110100.
Guadagni M, Nazzari G. Acute perniosis in elderly people: a predictive sign of systemic disease? Acta Derm Venereol. 2010;90. doi:10.2340/00015555-0918.

Spelman D, Baddour LM. Cellulitis and skin abscess: clinical manifestations and diagnosis. Post TW, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate Inc. Mar 28, 2019. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/cellulitis-and-skin-abscess-clinical-manifestations-and-diagnosis. Accessed November 24, 2019.

Kroshinsky, D. Pernio (chilblains). Post TW, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate Inc. May 29, 2019. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/pernio-chilblains. Accessed November 13, 2019.

Jr. WCS. Cold Hands and Feet Remedies, Causes & Treatment. eMedicineHealth. https://www.emedicinehealth.com/cold_hands_and_feet/article_em.htm#cold_hands__feet_overview. Accessed January 18, 2020.

Maroon MS, Hensley DS. Pernio. Medscape. Updated: May 04, 2018. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1087946-overview. Accessed January 18, 2020.

Oakley A. Chilblains. DermNet NZ. 1999. https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/chilblains/
. Accessed January 18, 2020.

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