How Common is Cold Urticaria

How common is cold urticaria? Explained

Many individuals are familiar with hives (urticaria) caused by heat, pollen, and other triggers, for example. To support this claim, The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology states that roughly 20% of the U.S. population is affected by urticaria at some point in their lives. so, how common is cold urticaria?

While general urticaria is common, cold urticaria isn't. In fact, this medical condition is recognized by the National Association for Rare Disorders, a support organization for unusual syndromes. It's also unclear how many people suffer from cold urticaria, but medical experts know it predominantly affects children and young adults.

So what exactly is cold urticaria? Per the Mayo Clinic, this condition is marked by individuals having an allergic response to cold weather. The symptoms bear a striking resemblance to hives as the skin develops red and itchy bumps when triggered.

How do you know you have cold urticaria?

How common is cold urticaria: The best way to decipher if you have this condition is to visit a healthcare specialist who is versed in cold urticaria. In particular, allergists, immunologists, or dermatologists are the top specialists to see, as they are well-acquainted with the disease and know of the best ways to manage and treat it.

You may, however, suspect cold urticaria, if:

  1. You have red and itchy bumps after going out in the cold
  2. You notice the hives getting worse after you warm up
  3. Your hands swell when you pick up a cold drink
  4. Your lips swell after drinking a cold beverage

The mechanisms behind cold urticaria episodes

When affected patients are exposed to the cold, the body, in response, discharges chemicals and histamine into the blood. The effects are seen on the surface of the skin, and in extreme cases, individuals may go into anaphylaxis shock.

Risk factors

There are many risk factors for developing cold urticaria. Genetics is reportedly the least common factor for acquiring the condition. On the other hand, underlying diseases like cancer and hepatitis, or recent infections like pneumonia, raise an individual's disposition for developing cold urticaria.

What to avoid

People with cold urticaria should avoid going out in the cold, especially in the wintertime when the weather dips to extremely low temperatures. In addition, if swimming is pursued, this should only be done in heated pools.

There are a number of reported cases of affected individuals taking a swim in cold water, which subsequently led to a whole-body systematic response. Medical experts warn, therefore, that whole-body exposure to cold water or frigid air may cause severe reactions when you have cold urticaria.

Some of these adverse effects of cold exposure include:

  • Anaphylaxis Shock
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Fainting Spells
  • Hypotension (Low Blood Pressure)
  • Swollen Limbs and Torso
  • Death

Check the weather

A good rule of thumb to follow if you have cold urticaria is to check the weather daily – and at different times of the day, especially during the winter months. If the temperatures go lower than 39 F (4 C), medical experts suggest staying indoors.

The temperature forecast isn't the only thing to keep in mind either, as an outbreak can happen in slightly warmer weather, particularly on windy and damper days.

Exercise caution when swimming

Due to the risks of drowning and even death, you should always do a small test of the water temperature before entering a pool. The safest way to go swimming when you have cold urticaria is in a heated pool where temperatures are strictly controlled. As an added layer of security, a wetsuit should be worn to maintain body heat.

How to treat cold urticaria

How common is cold urticaria: One of the most commonly prescribed treatments for cold urticaria is over-the-counter antihistamines. These help to stop the release of histamine in the bloodstream. If these don't work, then doctors may prescribe a stronger medicine, such as Doxepin.

Unlike common hive outbreaks, a cold urticaria episode can be fatal if it isn't treated fast. If you're concerned about having a severe allergic reaction to the cold, ask your doctor about prescribing an epinephrine auto-injector. There are quite a number of options on the market today, and these provide you with a reliable way to stop anaphylaxis shock instead of waiting until an emergency response team arrives.

Last Reviewed:
July 17, 2017
Last Updated:
October 25, 2017