Noblesville, Indiana woman suffers from rare allergy to cold weather

INDIANAPOLIS - For most of us, the winter chill is just a nuisance, but for a Noblesville, Ind. woman and others who suffer from a rare disorder, it is much more serious.

Tanya Whilhite is a mother of two and an avid runner. Staying inside isn't an option for her.

However, her outdoor experience changed starting in October, the first time she noticed hives on her exposed skin after returning from a routine run.

Then, in January, the hives popped up again. This time, they were redder and more irritated.

"It actually crept up to around my face, the back of my neck because my hair was up," Whilhite said. "Not only was it bright red, but it was very painful and very itchy."

The hives swelled, itched and wouldn't go away. At age 36, Whilhite worried this was her new reality. So, she got help from Dr. Christopher Obeime, a dermatologist at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis.

Obeime diagnosed Whilhite with cold urticaria, a condition that can be hard to diagnose. The word "urticaria" translates to hives.

"You can do a $20,000 work up and not have answer," said Obeime, adding that sometimes urticaria develops after a person changes their soap or shampoo, during a bacterial infection or after eating certain foods.

In Whilhite's case, the condition was brought on by extreme cold and, in some cases, extreme heat.

Indiana has plenty of heat in the summer, and the winters are pretty chilly. Whilhite said that in the last few months, she has battled enough cold, wintry weather to last her for years.

"It was really very debilitating," she said.

Obeime treats urticaria quickly, starting with antihistamines and sometimes using anti-depressants or steroid shots. Extreme cases, left untreated, can be fatal.

"The mucus membranes can get swollen and people cannot breathe," Obeime said.

Obeime recommends seeking medical help if persistent red, puffy hives that itch and move around your body. It's so uncomfortable, he said, you'll know when you need help.

Whilhite knew right away.

"I don't know if I'll really go off (medicine) because I don't know if I want to experience that again," she said.

The Mayo Clinic recommends a quick test to find out if you or your children are at risk for urticaria. Take an ice cube, place it on your skin for at least three minutes and if a hive forms, you may need to seek help from a doctor.

The Cold Urticaria Foundation connects people who are living with the condition.

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