Medical Edge: Cold Allergies

Posted at: 01/08/2013 6:39 PM
By: Ellery McCardle

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- It's that time of year, people bundling up as they head outside. But did you know some people are actually allergic to the cold?

Melissa Kerlin has a condition called cold urticaria.

"They'd be like, you're allergic to what?" Said Kerlin.

"It is possible for people to develop an allergy to the cold," said Dr. James Li, of Mayo Clinic Asthma and Allergy.

"My ears would get numb until they were burning," said Kerlin.

She would also get hives. So whenever she heads out in temperatures below 45 degrees she bundles up.

It's not just cold weather that causes problems. Melissa can't eat ice cream or drink cold liquids or swim in cool water.

"My throat would just close up, swell up," said Kerlin.

"With extreme cold exposure or total body exposure there can be a massive release of histamine and significant body swelling, even a drop in blood pressure and this could be a life-threatening situation," said Dr. Li.

Dr. Li says in some people the cold, like many allergens, triggers mast cells in your immune system to release histamine and other chemicals. This causes skin tissue to become inflamed, red, itchy and swollen. If this reaction happens in an area such as your throat, you could be in trouble.

Kerlin takes anti-histamines every day and carries an epinephrine auto-injector and now she enjoys the winter weather from the inside looking out.

Dr. Li says there's no way to tell who will become allergic to the cold. It's rare but if you suspect you might be, talk to an allergist to see if you should restrict any cold-relations activities.