Cold Urticaria

True Life:

Monday, March 28, 2005

A Chilling Allergy

Jessica Poris couldn’t figure out where the hives on her face and hands came from.

All she did that morning was walk five blocks to Lakeside Elementary School in Merrick, N.Y. She placed her coat and backpack in a closet and folded her hands on her desk in anticipation for her fifth-grade teacher to start class.

Red hives of all shapes - hearts, circles and diamonds - and of all sizes - dimes, quarters and golf balls - began to form. About 25 pupils began to point and laugh.

"I was about to cry," she said. "I don't handle embarrassment well."

On that December morning, she experienced her first allergic reaction to cold temperatures.

Poris, 20, was diagnosed with cold urticaria, an allergic skin condition, which results in the rapid outbreak of hives from the exposure to cold.

Not a seasonal allergy

pool Cold urticaria is not a seasonal allergy, even a breezy day with moisture in the air, a lap around a cool pool or an April shower can trigger a reaction that can even be fatal if not treated properly.

She said the hives are so itchy, she finds it hard not to scratch.

“The itchiness can get so bad,” said Poris, a physical therapy student at the University of Florida. “It feels like getting your fingers slammed in a car door.”

She is not alone

family She is one of fewer than 200,000 individuals in the United States who suffers from this rare condition, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ January 2005 records. 5

Poris, a born and bred New Yorker, would layer on winter jackets, scarves, hats, gloves and sometimes even a face mask, until her clothes made it difficult to move her arms and legs.

“I wobbled to school,” she said.

She also took 12.5 milligrams to 25 milligrams of Benedryl 30 minutes before leaving her home, which her allergist, Dr. Michael Richheimer, recommended.

“Anyone with allergies should take an antihistamine to control hives from forming,” said Dr. Richheimer, from Long Beach, N.Y. “Prescription and over-the-counter antihistamines like Benedryl and Claritin block the chemical reactions that cause the hives to develop.”


Will her children be born allergic to cold?

Unlike Poris’ case, cold urticaria can be hereditary.

“If you suspect your newborn has cold urticaria, I advise breast feeding the baby in order to avoid giving them cold formula,” Dr. Richheimer said.

He also said not to underestimate the possible damaging consequences of exposing skin to cold showers and swimming pools.

“Swimming in cold waters or even taking too cold of a shower can be fatal,” he said.

Inevitable Cold

Poris lives each day cautious of her surroundings.

“Try telling someone to avoid the cold,” she said. “I can’t predict a rainy day, but I always carry an umbrella.”

She is wary before she takes a sip of her morning coffee and must prepare herself before holding her favorite drink - one tall iced vanilla latte.

“I wear gloves to carry cold things around,” said Poris, who will take napkins to wrap around her right hand and weave it between each finger if she forgets to bring her protection.

She said the time it takes her to walk from a coffee shop in the J. Wayne Reitz Union to Rolfs Hall for English class, about five to 10 minutes, is just enough time for the ice cubes floating in her cup to trigger itching hives. see campus map

“Unfortunately, I can’t avoid the cold,” she said.

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© 2005 Randi N. Bernfeld