by Riley Whelan ’18
Some people really hate the cold. They can’t stand the icy winds, the snowfall, or the constant chill. However, not that many people can say they are actually allergic to the cold.
Cold urticaria, or “cold hives,” is a disorder that causes a person’s skin to break out in hives or large red welts after coming into contact with the cold. According to the Mayo Clinic, this reaction can be triggered by anything ranging from dipping your hand in cold water to stepping outside during wintry conditions to ingesting a cold substance.
Usually, the welts are itchy, and sometimes the hands and feet will become itchy and swollen too. The severity of the disease varies in each case in every person, eliciting different reactions as well. In some of the more extreme cases, a person can faint or even experience a swollen tongue/throat, blocking off airways and making it difficult to breathe normally.
Cold urticaria is a relatively rare disease, impacting around one in 1,000 people. It occurs in different forms and the cause is often unknown. Most patients are diagnosed with a case of primary cold urticaria, which has an unknown cause and appears spontaneously. Others have secondary cold urticaria which is triggered by other infectious diseases in the patient’s body.
Although often hard to pinpoint due to its rarity, cold urticaria is typically diagnosed through an ice cube test. An ice cube is placed against the skin of the patient forearm for 2-5 minutes. If the patient has the disease, a distinct red swollen rash accompanied by hives should appear within minutes. Once the patients are diagnosed, they are then able to take preventative measures in hopes of reducing their symptoms.
Depending on the extremity of the condition, those affected take different precautions to protect themselves from the cold. Drugs such as epinephrine and diphenhydramine have been proven to help minimize the symptoms of the disease. The easiest way to prevent the breakout of hives and swelling is simply to bundle up in plenty of warm clothing during the winter season, something that science teacher Laura Dinerman is very familiar with, as she is one of the rare people in the world who struggles with cold urticaria.
During the winter months especially, she layers on jackets and scarves to avoid contact with the cold, preventing her skin from turning red or breaking out in hives. Cold urticaria doesn’t stop her, however. Dinerman travels around the world to a wide variety of countries, which sometimes leads her to climb along glaciers or walk through icy paths. The disease “can be truly inconvenient when you’re climbing a glacier,” Dinerman said, referencing her trip to Iceland last year.