Can you be allergic to the cold?

Many of us tend to get sick during the cold months, but if allergy symptoms arise, we are likely to blame a cold. Though rare, some people are actually allergic to the cold itself, suffering from what is known as cold urticaria. For comparison, about 1 out of every 10 people is allergic to pets, while only about 1 in 100,000 are allergic to the cold.

Cold allergies have been reported in children as young as 5 years old, but the age of onset tends to be during the adolescent years. The allergies to the cold can arise out of nowhere or may be triggered after an infection or illness. An allergy to the cold can be inherited, but inheriting this allergy is extremely rare, occurring in about 1 out of every 1 million cases of cold allergy. Many of those with cold allergies suffer from their allergies for about 5 years and then the allergy disappears.

As with many other allergies, cold allergies are diagnosed through a skin test. The patient will have an ice cube set on his or her forearm to see if changing the temperature of the skin causes an allergic reaction. The course of a cold allergy is much like that of other allergies and includes swelling, hives, and itchiness. The treatment is also the same. Patients avoid the allergen, use antihistamines, and in severe cases, deploy an EpiPen.

In extreme cases, cold can induce anaphylaxis in those who are allergic to it. Luckily for those who are allergic to the cold, allergy onset usually requires that the temperature of skin drop dramatically. By bundling up, those with cold allergies can therefore still enjoy the outdoors on cold days.

What is more dangerous for those with cold allergies than going outdoors in cold weather is swimming in cold water or eating cold foods. While swimming in cold water, cold allergy sufferers may become covered in hives –or, in severe cases, suffer from anaphylactic shock. It is particularly dangerous to suffer a severe cold allergy reaction in the water because it increases the chances of drowning. Similarly, those who have an extreme reaction eaten frozen foods or drinks may end up choking.

While cold allergies are rare, it is important to recognize when the allergy exists so that precautions can be taken to prevent symptoms or serious reactions. Those who suffer from cold allergies can generally follow the same advice as other allergy sufferers do and even rely on the same medications.

Author
Dr. Summit Shah

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