Perniosis is an inflammatory disorder that is triggered by prolonged exposure to cold and damp (humid) conditions. It is a form of inflammation of the small blood vessels (vasculitis) and is characterized by painful, itchy, tender, skin lesions on the lower legs, hands, toes, feet, ears and face. The lesions usually last for two to three weeks. One form of the disorder affects the blood vessels of the thighs.
Perniosis is an 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, and swelling of the skin especially as the body becomes warmer. A dark-blue discoloration (acrococyanosis) may be seen on the fingertips or extremities. The lesions usually occur on the fingers, toes, lower legs, heels, ears and nose. In severe cases there may be blister-like lesions (bullae) which may ulcerate if rubbed or irritated. Perniosis is a seasonal disorder usually occurring when the weather is cold and the humidity is high; especially during the late fall and winter. It usually lasts for several weeks, but in some cases may persist even into the warmer months.
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 outside of the thighs and can cause swelling, burning, itching and occasionally ulceration. Exposure to a warm temperature and wearing looser fitting thermal insulated clothing will usually relieve or avoid the symptoms of this abnormal reaction to the cold.
The exact cause of perniosis is unclear. 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 pain is the result. 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. Some cases are believed to be caused by genetic factors. Other suspected causes include nutrition, local infection, hormonal changes, and other systemic diseases.
Perniosis is seen more often in females than in males. Also, it is seen more often in women who are very thin. Several articles in the medical literature focus on cases of perniosis in anorexic women. Individuals with poor circulation and smokers are affected more frequently than the general population. The disorder is more common in damp climates than in dry ones. Symptoms usually begin before the age of 20 years.
Diagnosis is the result of physical examination and the close examination of the process of rewarming.
Treatment of perniosis consists of protection from cold and warming the affected areas slowly. Individuals with perniosis should avoid scratching or rubbing the affected area to help avoid further damage to the skin. Corticosteroid creams may help relieve the intense itching. The calcium channel blocker drug nifedipine (Adalat) can be an effective treatment in relieving the symptoms of cold related perniosis. Other treatment is symptomatic and supportive.
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