Photo: Getty Images
On February 8, 2011 the Today show had a little girl on as a guest who is allergic to cold temperatures. Her parents first thought she was allergic to sunscreen since she was breaking out in hives after swimming. They took her to an allergist who tested her skin using an ice cube and he made the diagnosis of cold urticaria, which essentially means breaking out in hives from exposure to the cold.
Being allergic to anything is a real inconvenience but being allergic to cold takes a tremendous amount of vigilance to make sure that the person is protected, especially if she is a child. Traveling anywhere requires an abundance of pre-planning.
What is cold urticaria?
Typically a person with cold urticaria will develop itchy hives or red bumps or welts after exposure to cold temperatures below 40 degrees Celsius. Alternately, a person may instead develop the hives as their skin re-warms after being cold or during other times of damp or windy weather. They may also develop swelling of the lips or hands especially if have been eating or holding something cold like a bowl of ice cream.
In certain people, cold urticaria can become more severe and life threatening if their allergic reaction goes on to create difficulty breathing or a drop in their blood pressure from a sudden release of histamine. This serious response can lead to shock or death.
Precautions for those with cold urticaria:
Managing cold urticaria really requires planning ahead at all times. The person needs to stay in warm temperatures so house heat should be above 70 degrees Celsius, cars need to be pre-heated, especially in winter, before traveling and clothes and towels should be pre-warmed before bathing. If the person is thought to be at risk of developing a severe reaction, an EpiPen should be carried at all times.
There are some medications that may also be given to help with cold urticaria. Anti-histamines can block the release of histamine, the chemical secreted in the body in response to exposure to an allergen. Sometimes an anti-anxiety medication such as Doxepin may also block symptoms of cold urticaria.