Cold urticaria is a skin condition. It is characterized by the formation of reddish, extremely itchy welts. These welts are also called hives. They may be accompanied by swelling on several parts of the skin. This is an allergic condition caused by the exposure of the skin to cold weather. It can also be caused by swimming during cold weather. The swelling and welts are commonly found on:
Patients get a rush after exposure to a cold environment for about three to five minutes. The effects of the allergy can last for about one to two hours. This duration can continue for a longer period depending on the exposure to the cold. Sometimes, similar hives are associated with infections or a blood disease. However, such cases are very rare.
The symptoms vary depending on the severity of the allergic reaction. Apart from the rashes and the swelling of the skin, the patient may also experience the following:
In extreme cases, the allergic reaction may also cause a coma, shock or even death of the patients. Heart palpitations are also a symptom of an advanced case of cold urticaria.
Some patients experience the swelling of the throat and tongue, which makes it hard for them to breathe. When such reactions occur while the patient is swimming, there is a risk of death by drowning.
You should always visit a doctor if you experience a skin reaction from the exposure to cold, however mild it may feel. It is important for the doctor to rule out the possibility of having a severe underlying condition.
Seek emergency assistance if you experience a whole body response, that is followed by the severe conditions discussed above, especially difficulty in breathing.
The exact cause of cold urticaria is poorly understood. However, doctors know that the condition is triggered by exposing the skin to cold conditions. In many cases, the condition develops when the skin is exposed to temperatures below 39 degrees Fahrenheit. However, no conclusive research determines how the condition leads to the extreme reactions. What is known is that the cold triggers the skin cell that releases histamine into the bloodstream. The allergic reactions develop from the actions of histamine in the body.
In rare cases, the condition may be caused by infectious diseases and blood conditions. Common conditions that cause the illness include chronic lymphocytic leukemia, cryoglobulinemia, mononucleosis, chicken pox, and viral hepatitis. This allergic reaction occurs when these conditions are in their advanced stage and therefore very fatal. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience hives while suffering any of the above conditions.
Medical research does link the development of the allergy with inheritance or family history. Despite many cases occurring randomly without any family history of the condition, there are people with genetic conditions that make the skin cells more sensitive to the cold than others. Such people are thought to be more susceptible to cold urticaria than others
If you are diagnosed with the condition, you can prevent recurrent episodes by doing the following
When you visit the doctor with the above symptoms, the doctor makes the preliminary diagnosis from the physical symptoms and signs. However, the doctor may undertake additional tests to eliminate other conditions and confirm that you are indeed suffering from the condition. The confirmatory test generally involves a skin stimulation test where your forearm is exposed to a very cold object for about five minutes. If you suffer from the condition, you will experience a swollen rash within the first few minutes. Later, your doctor may perform a complete blood count or metabolic tests to eliminate the possibility of having an underlying condition.
The treatment of cold urticaria takes several approaches since it is a recurrent condition. The first line of treatment involves reducing the symptoms associated with the condition. The patient may be given one or a combination of anti-histamines. They include Ciclosporin, oral antibiotics, Danazol and systematic corticosteroids, among others. For patients who are often exposed to cold or experience recurring allergic attacks, the doctor may recommend an epinephrine autoinjector. The patients carry this around and use it when they experience the attacks.
The second line of treatment involves educating the patient on ways to avoid scenarios that may trigger the allergic reaction. This may include cold water, low temperatures, and certain medications.
Cold urticaria may last a number of years. Most of the symptoms are resolved in less than ten years after their onset. However, some patients experience the symptoms of exposure to the cold for 15 to 20 years. However, you can live a normal life if you learn to avoid the triggers.