Case Reports

Ice Pack–Induced Perniosis: A Rare and Underrecognized Association

Author and Disclosure Information




Perniosis is a self-limited condition, manifesting as erythematous plaques or nodules following exposure to cold and damp conditions. It was first reported in 1902 by Hochsinger2 as tender submental plaques occurring in children after exposure to cold weather. Since then, reports of perniosis have been described in equestrians and long-distance cyclists as well as in the context of other outdoor activities.3-5 In all cases, patients developed perniosis at sites of exposure to cold or damp conditions.

Perniosis arising in patients using ice pack therapy is a rare and recent phenomenon, with only 3 other known reported cases.6,7 In all cases, including ours, patients reported treating chronic low back pain with ice packs for more than 2 hours per day. Clinical presentations included erythematous to purpuric plaques with ulceration on the lower back or buttocks that reoccurred with subsequent use of ice packs. No concomitant CTD was reported.6

Much controversy exists as to whether idiopathic perniosis (IP) increases susceptibility to acquiring an autoimmune disease or if IP is a form of CTD that follows a more indolent course.8 In a prospective study of 33 patients with underlying IP, no patients developed lupus erythematosus (LE), with a median follow-up of 38 months.9 A study by Crowson and Magro8 revealed that 18 of 39 patients with perniotic lesions had an associated systemic disease including LE, human immunodeficiency virus, viral hepatitis, rheumatoid arthritis, cryofibrinogenemia, hypergammaglobulinemia, iritis, or Crohn disease. Of the 21 other patients who had no underlying CTD or systemic disease, 10 had a positive ANA test but no systemic symptoms; therefore, all 21 of these patients were classified as cases of IP.8

Cutaneous biopsy to distinguish between IP and autoimmune perniosis remains controversial; perniotic lesions and discoid LE share histopathologic features,9 as was evident with our case, which demonstrated overlapping findings of vacuolar change with superficial and deep perivascular and periadnexal lymphoid infiltrates. Typical features of IP include thrombosed capillaries in the papillary dermis and lymphocytic exocytosis localized to the acrosyringia, whereas secondary perniosis has superficial and deep perivascular and perieccrine lymphocytic infiltrates with vascular thrombosis in the reticular dermis. Vascular ectasia, dermal mucinosis, basement membrane zone thickening, and erythrocyte extravasation are not reliable and may be seen in both cases.8 One study revealed the only significant difference between both entities was the perieccrine distribution of lymphocytic infiltrate in cases of IP (P=.007), whereas an absence of perieccrine involvement was noted in autoimmune cases.9

Direct immunofluorescence (DIF) may help differentiate IP from autoimmune perniosis. In a prospective study by Viguier et al,9 6 of 9 patients with IP had negative DIF and 3 had slight nonspecific C3 immunoreactivity of dermal vessels. Conversely, in patients with autoimmune perniosis, positive DIF with the lupus band test was seen in 3 of 7 patients, all who had a positive ANA test9; however, positive ANA levels also were reported in patients with autoimmune perniosis but negative DIF, suggesting that DIF lacks specificity in diagnosing autoimmune perniosis.

Although histopathologic findings bear similarities to LE, there are no guidelines to suggest for or against laboratory testing for CTD in patients presenting with perniosis. Some investigators have suggested that any patient with clinical features suggestive of perniosis should undergo laboratory evaluation including a complete blood cell count and assessment for antibodies to Ro, ANA, rheumatoid factor, cryofibrinogens, and antiphospholipid antibodies.9 Serum protein electrophoresis and immunofixation electrophoresis may be done to exclude monoclonal gammopathy.

For idiopathic cases, treatment is aimed at limiting or removing cold exposure. Patients should be advised regarding the use of long-term ice pack use and the potential development of perniosis. For chronic perniosis lasting beyond several weeks, a combination of a slow taper of oral prednisone, hydroxychloroquine, and quinacrine has been successful in patients with persistent lesions despite making environmental modifications.3 Intralesional triamcinolone acetonide and nifedipine also have been effective in perniotic hand lesions.10


We report a rare case of perniosis on the buttocks that arose in a patient who utilized ice packs for treatment of chronic low back pain. Ice pack–induced perniosis may be an underreported entity. Histopathologic examination is nondescript, as overlapping features of perniosis and LE have been observed with no underlying CTD present. Correlation with patient history and clinical examination is paramount in diagnosis and management.

Next Article: