Medical Mythbuster: Can You Actually Be Allergic to the Cold?

Yes, it’s true, you really can have an allergic reaction to cold temperatures, with symptoms such as an itchy rash, redness, swelling and hives. Known by healthcare providers as cold urticaria, this is an uncommon condition that usually does not last more than a few years. Although more common in children and young people, cold urticaria can afflict anyone at any age.

In those suffering from cold urticaria, antihistamines are released when the body experiences cold temperatures, such as when you walk outside without a coat on a cold day, or go swimming in an unheated pool. This triggers the symptoms, which usually disappear in an hour or two. If the allergic reaction begins long after the exposure to the cold, however, the symptoms can take much longer to go away. A severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, can also happen to some people who suffer from cold urticaria, causing a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment. If you believe you suffer from cold urticaria, an allergist can make a diagnosis by testing your skin for a reaction to the cold.

If you experience cold urticaria, an antihistamine can help relieve your symptoms. However, the best defense (outside of moving to a warmer climate) is to bundle up with a warm coat, hat, gloves, scarf, boots, and whatever else you need to stay warm on a cold day.

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