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Doctors: It is possible to be allergic to extreme cold

Posted at 4:58 PM, Jan 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-30 18:43:58-05

CLEVELAND — Our health can quickly take a hit after spending just a few minutes outside.

Among the usual list of cold-related issues, there's a condition that may sound like a joke, but it could have serious consequences if you're not careful.

While emergency room doctors are more likely to see cases of hypothermia and frostbite in extreme weather like this, there are people who show up with an allergic reaction triggered by the cold.

"It's called cold urticaria," said Dr. Howard Dickey-White with University Hospitals.

Just like when someone is allergic to foods and medications people can find themselves with welts and hives on their skin.

"Some people get it with cold drinks, little bit strange," said Dr. Dickey-White.

Dickey-White said skin irritation and shortness of breath are the main symptoms.

"Most of the time it's just a mild reaction involving the skin after you've had cold exposure," said Dickey-White.

Cold urticaria is a rare condition that can cause some people to go into anaphylactic shock.

"If people get it in the cold they probably should do is talk to their family doctor," said Dickey-White.

The condition can be genetic, but if you don't have a family history and suspect you may be allergic to the cold there is a simple test.

Doctors will put a plastic bag filled with water and ice on your arm to see what happens.

"If it shows hives, that's your diagnosis," said Dickey-White.

The more far reaching threat in a deep freeze is frostbite.

"Fingers, ears, toes, nose are the most susceptible to gangrene," said Dickey-White.

The doctors advice on brutally cold days is to avoid any health issues by just staying inside.

"We've seen less patients today, so people are smart, not coming out unless they really need to," said Dickey-White.

In some cases, patients are encouraged to carry an antihistamine with them in frigid weather like this to treat an allergic reaction just like they would if they had a mold or grass allergy.