Allergic to winter?

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: December 24th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Very few of us look forward to the approach of cold temperatures and the runny noses, stiff joints and stinging fingertips that accompany the wintry months. But did you know it’s actually possible to be allergic to cold weather?

The allergy is called cold urticaria [uhr-ta-care-ee-ah]. Young adults ages eighteen to twenty-five years are most often affected.

There are two forms: acquired and hereditary. In both cases, the most common symptom is the development of large red hives or welts on the skin after exposure to cold, cold water or cold objects.

Other symptoms may include swelling of the hands and feet, wheezing or shortness of breath… and rapid or irregular heartbeat.

In the acquired form, the symptoms become obvious about two minutes after exposure and last for up to two hours. In the hereditary form, symptoms take longer to develop… as long as forty-eight hours. And they can last for an additional two days.

The easiest way to diagnose the allergy is to hold an ice cube against the skin for up to five minutes. A distinct red rash should develop if the patient has cold urticaria.

The best way to treat the allergy is to avoid a sudden drop in temperature. Allergy sufferers also should avoid swimming or surfing without some form of supervision, because cool waters can trigger a reaction. Antihistamines can be prescribed to help patients until their bodies, over time, warm to the idea of the thrill of the chill.