When the temperature drops outside during winter, most people shiver and
put on a sweater. But for some people, the cold actually sparks an allergic reaction.
"There is actually a rare condition, called cold urticaria, that causes
mild to severe allergy symptoms," says
James Yoon, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at
St. Jude Heritage Medical Group in Fullerton. "It mainly affects the skin, but like other allergies,
in the most extreme cases it can lead to anaphylaxis, which affects the
entire body and can be life threatening."
Usually, cold urticaria sets in at temperatures of about 39 degrees or
lower in air or water, although it can be higher for certain people. Itchy
hives on the skin are a hallmark of the condition; other allergy symptoms
can include swollen hands and lips if they come in contact with the cold.
It can be either an immediate or delayed allergic reaction, with symptoms
lasting anywhere from a half-hour to 48 hours. "Swimming in cold
water can be especially harmful for people with this allergy because their
body is submerged, and that can lead to an elevated heart rate, trouble
breathing, or unconsciousness," Dr. Yoon says.
While cold urticaria can be a temporary condition, it is important to see
a doctor if you suspect you're showing symptoms. "It can be more
common in young people, eventually resolving itself," Dr. Yoon says.
"But for some people, it can be caused by overly sensitive skin,
family genetics, an infection or a more serious health problem such as
cancer." While patients may be referred to a dermatologist or allergist
for further treatment, they can also be given over-the-counter antihistamines
used for allergies or prescription medication.
"And of course, people with an allergy to cold should avoid it whenever
possible," Dr. Yoon adds. " Limit skin exposure to the elements
when it's cold outside or in overly air-conditioned rooms, and avoid
especially cold drinks or food."
Do you have any unusual allergies? Share a comment below.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.