Chilblains, pernio or perniosis, it’s still a pain in the rash
Unless you’ve been around for multiple decades or have been hanging out with those who have, it’s a bet you’ve never heard of an ailment called chilblains. Of course, modern medical science has renamed all the old diseases with trendier, more tongue-twisting monikers in order to justify charging health consumers an arm and a leg. So what is now perniosis was once the Disease Formerly Known as Chilblains.
These skin ulcers, a variety of vasculitis or inflammation of capillary blood vessels, form on the body in response to sudden exposure to cold temperatures. Since our climate in the Detroit/Great Lakes region is infamously damp and cold in fall, winter and part of spring, we can see any number of victims of chilblains locally. Oddly, however, not many Detroiters realize how often they fall prey to perniosis in hot weather due to rapidly changing from being hot to cold by jumping into water, moving into air-conditioned surroundings, or gulping cold drinks.
Although generally considered the domain of extremities, chilblain lesions may appear anywhere. You could be balancing a cold bottle of pop on one arm and within moments, a mass of red, itchy swollen welts will arise in the area in contact with the bottle. Some people report hives erupting all over after plunging into cold water as previously mentioned. In such instances, the victim has also often experienced shock-like symptoms, difficulty breathing as with asthma, and loss of consciousness. Other worst-case scenarios have even involved swelling of breathing passages–primarily the throat–due to hives in those areas.
Needless to say, perniosis is capable of life-threatening effects. It certainly doesn’t help, then, when today’s allopathic medical world shrugs the disease off in many cases as psychologically-induced (or, to use more common terminology, it happens because you’re nuts). Patients who are lucky will be treated with calamine lotion written up as a prescription despite being readily available over the counter. Not-so-lucky folks will be prescribed any number of psychiatric medications such as Valium or Prozac. You might even be ordered to knock off all that scratching since your itchiness is all in your head.
Generally, chilblains runs in families and seems to especially curse the fair-skinned, red or blond haired and people with allergies. Other proclivities to this condition include smoking (which also may involve secondhand smoke), lupus, poor circulation, and one situation rarely examined by allopathic medicine: adrenal exhaustion. In the latter case, a person whose adrenal glands are simply not well-functioning due to a long period of running full tilt can experience reactions as described above in response to sudden exposure to cold temperatures. When asthma is a part of the person’s background, it can be triggered because cold air instigates inflammation in breathing passages as well as inducing mucus production.
As for treatment, of course prevention is always the optimal option, by managing to keep warm, avoid cold water, drafts, and remain in a climate with moderate temperatures. Many people already do so in their sedentary, mostly-indoor lifestyles, not that this is a good thing in itself. Keeping your adrenal glands healthy with a diet geared to maintaining them with brown rice, less caffeine or other stimulants, omega-3 oils from salmon or tuna or other cold-water fish, walnuts, kelp, and lowering stress levels, are good choices. Exercise that stimulates circulation, but not to a point of exhaustion, can aid healing and promote prevention as well. Overall, keeping the immune system and general health in good shape ward off chilblains.
For treatment of chilblains directly and soothing of the itching, standard methods apply. Topical applications of baking soda, corn starch, aloe vera, witch hazel and rose petals all work well. Using any or a combination of such herbal ingredients can calm down inflammation and quell the infernal urge to scratch until you are raw. For infusions, to apply in a poultice, as a wash or for soaking, roses work best. Aloe vera in its gel form is a great topical solution spread directly on the afflicted area; similarly, corn starch sprinkled on as a powder brings relief. Baking soda may do well in a solution with water or, for those able to resist scratching, directly in its powdered form as a counter-irritant. Witch hazel, readily available over-the-counter as a liquid, may be used to swab on the skin.
Residents of our region, don’t hesitate to enjoy water sports, cold drinks and air-conditioning in what little precious summer time is available to us…just ensure that you can do it safely and in good health!