Allergic to cold?

My wife has been successfully treated for her allergy to cold for over a year now. If she drops her medications, her hands get really itchy if she gets into a cold place (or even holds a large glass of iced something). It really is cold that triggers it as one year of haphazard experimentation has shown us.

How does that work? I am no allergy expert but this just flies in the face of what little I know about allergies. What’s her body reacting to?

It’s not an allergy. An allergy is a specific immune response to certain allergens (often though not always proteins). There’s no such thing as “cold allergens,” so it can’t be an allergy.

I’m not saying your wife isn’t sensative to the cold, lots of people are sensative to lots of different things, they just aren’t always allergies.

As to the cause…all Ican guess is something to do with the cold making her skin and pores contract, causing discomfort.

Cold urticaria is a mast cell degranulation phenomenon due to change in temperature, and as such, qualifies as an allergic disorder.

Antihistamines may help. If problems are significant, see your doctor.

Nice article on successful immunotherapy with anti-IgE for cold urticaria here:

Cool! (No pun and/or insensitivity to Sapo’s wife intended.)

(I had been assuming that he was talking about Raynaud’s disease, which makes it onto the Discovery Channel and TLC semi-regularly. An actual allergy to cold is much more wacky.)

I won’t even ask about the “See Also” suggestion.

She is being treated by an allergist with antihistamines which work fine (only when she remembers to take them, though).

Your link doesn’t give much on how the reaction works except that exposure to cold cause the release of histamines. Any idea of how this works and how it relates or contrasts with normal allergic reactions?


Huh…I didn’t think it would have qualified…but that’s why you’re the doc, not me! :wink:

There was an article in the NYT Sunday magazine in January about a man suffering from a cold allergy.

It’s totally possible. In my case, it went away when I switched birth control pills.

The reaction (release of antihistamines) is the normal allergic reaction, is what makes it be “an allergy” and not other form of sensitivity. What’s strange is the trigger: normally, and this is what bouv was talking about, the trigger is a non-dangerous chemical which the body mistakes for a dangerous one.

I used to have this thing, as a kid. If I was out in the cold with bare legs, my legs would first get red. There would be these sort of branchy red lines across them. Then they’d get itchy. Then they’d get little yellow pustules on top of the lines–very itchy. (Yep, I looked like a road map.)

This would all happen in about the time it took me to walk to school, which was a mile away. (And uphill both ways, yes.)

It happened to my hands, too, if my mittens got wet, for instance, and I kept playing, but my mother thought that seemed perfectly normal–apparently at one time everybody suffered from chilblains (she pronounced it “chip-lins”) in the winter. But the legs, that was weird.

When I was a kid girls weren’t allowed to wear pants unless the temperature was below something like 20F. And tights were for babies, or really little girls. I got special dispensation to wear pants (under my skirt!) at a much higher temperature–below 50F. Although I think it really didn’t hit me until freezing. But it was so itchy and awful looking, I took no chances.

I blamed Oklahoma. That had never happened to me in California. In fact I was allergic to everything about that state. Blossoms in the spring, grass in the summer, ragweed in the fall, and cold in the winter.

I don’t know if I got over it (the cold thing, I mean) because I haven’t gone out with any bare skin in winter in decades.

Well, that’s exactly my question. Allergies are a reaction to an antigen. Here there is no apparent antigen. What is the body reacting to? Best I have found so far is mention of “idiopathic” reactions which is a non-answer.

Cold. In this case, the antigen is cold. What QtM said is that the current definition of “allergy” is not “reaction to an allergen” but “excessive release of antihistamines”.

Not quite, but close.

The trigger appears to be a change in temperature, particularly in a certain region of the body. The result of the trigger being pulled is a release of histamines.

It’s not well understood, but the fact that anti-IgE seems to help certain people with this problem would indicate that it is IgE-mediated, just like other classic allergies.

The human body may be more complex than we can ever fully understand. But it sure is interesting.

oy Hits herself with her boxes of antihistamines I promise I know the difference between those two! Histamines I make myself, the anti-ones I pay for!

Maybe she should wear a veil to prevent those molecules of cold from entering her body.

Not a veil, a scarf :slight_smile: Woolly ones work well.

My brother has this. His skin will get welts if you hold an ice cube against it.

Before we knew what the problem was, he got into a too-cold swimming pool once and he ended up covered in welts and he got extremely lightheaded. He was able to get out of the pool before he passed out.

I am not a doctor and I don’t know your brother but with the little info I have (your username), maybe the problem is you.

So, what’s the difference between cold urticaria and Raynaud’s?

If any part of my body is exposed to cold it will swell up or leave a welt. If it’s one of my fingers, my finger will feel painful and stiff, sort of ‘chunky’ for at least 45 minutes or longer. Or, if I’m drinking something cold and absentmindedly place the glass on my leg it will leave a large red, itchy/painful welt on my leg. My doctor said it was Raynaud’s but it sounds more like cold urticaria. I’m not really looking for medical advice here but this has me curious about what the significant differences are between the two.