Some people allergic to the cold… Literally!

Cold urticaria causes people's skin to break out in itchy welts. (Photo Courtesy: Lutheran Hospital)

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – It sounds like a joke to get out of being outside. “Oh, I’m allergic to the cold.” But, for people with cold urticaria, it’s no laughing matter.

“Even if it’s below 60 degrees, if I’m out in it too long and I get cold, it will do it to me,” April Grigsby said.

Cold urticaria causes people's skin to break out in itchy welts. (Photo Courtesy: Lutheran Hospital)
Cold urticaria causes people’s skin to break out in itchy welts. (Photo Courtesy: Lutheran Hospital)

Grigsby was diagnosed with the rare condition when she was 19.

“I went swimming at the beginning of the summer and the water was still a little cool. I got hives all over,” she said.

When people with cold urticaria come in contact with a cold surface, their skin can turn red, break out in hives, swell up and start to itch.

“Any time cold touches the skin, so it could be cold wind on the face and you could get urticaria on the face that way. The most common way that people get it is by touching something that’s cold,” Dr. Susan Frayer, the medical director of Lutheran Children’s Hospital, said. “If you have this condition you could touch a glass with ice water in it and could get hives on your hands.”

Grigsby’s lived with it for nearly 20 years and said it can be frustrating.

“Most parents go out and build snowmen and snow forts with their kids. I wasn’t able to do that unless I bundled up extremely, extremely well,” she said.

She also doesn’t drink anything that’s really cold.

“Very little ice in my drink,” Grigsby said.

Doctors said the way to see if you have cold urticaria is to do an ice cube test. Put an ice cube on your skin and leave it there for about five minutes. When that time is up, your skin will be red, but you still have to wait a little longer to finish the test. After another few minutes, if you have cold urticaria, a welt will form where the ice cube was.

“Most of the time, it’s able to be controlled with an over-the-counter antihistamine. So, if you have this condition before you’re going to be exposed to some type of cold, if you take an over-the-counter antihistamine it could prevent some of these reactions,” Dr. Frayer said.

The allergy can be hereditary, but some people will just randomly develop it as a young adult.  For some people it goes away after a few years and others deal with it all their lives.

The allergy is rare, but exact frequency numbers are inconsistent. Dr. Frayer said around one in 2,000 people has cold urticaria. A cold urticaria website said it’s one in 100,000 people. Fort Wayne Dermatology estimated out of the 7,000 patients it sees every year, only one person has cold urticaria.

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