My newfound love affair with Cetirizine.

As some of you may have already gleaned, I’ve developed a rare allergy called cold urticaria, which is an allergy to cold. My reaction to even the slightest of cool breezes is to develop an irritatingly itchy, blotchy red rash. The Oxford winter has left me with swollen fingers, hot ears and a numb nose from just the five-minute walk between my office and my car. I even had to ask HR to buy me a heater because I just could not concentrate while my feet (in two pairs of socks–one thermal–and leather boots) were cold and maddeningly itchy.

Back in November, I saw my GP, who wrote to the local dermatology department at one of Oxford’s many hospitals. An appointment was made for me (two months later–thanks, NHS), which happened to be a couple of weeks ago. I was seen by a very sympathetic and kind doctor, who had luckily seen this allergy once before. After undergoing the expected ice cube (or in this case, ice pack) test, being examined by a curious med student and having far too many vials of blood taken, I was given a prescription for a couple of antihistamines to try.

I was sceptical, since I’d already tried over-the-counter and two other prescribed antihistamines, but lo and behold, the first drug I tried worked! Well, mostly worked. It didn’t take away all the symptoms, but it took away the worst one–the itching. I still get the numbness in my nose when I go outside, but I can handle that. The rashes were slowly driving me insane, and I am so, so grateful for that doctor and Cetirizine.

This will sound incredibly cheesy, but I guess my lesson learned here was to have hope and keep trying different medications until I found one that worked. (My other lesson learned just this evening is to get the miracle pills on prescription, as Cetirizine is sold over-the-counter here as Piriteze…which is £3 for just 7 tablets, as opposed to the prescription charge of £8.05 for 60 tablets. Given that I’m taking two a day, that’s a no-brainer.)

Towels, chopping boards and other things I’m using wrong.

I read a BuzzFeed article the other day on how often you should wash your towels. Read it here. Apparently, you’re supposed to wash your towels after three uses. Just three. And any cloths that get completely soaked? After every use.

Before reading this article, I thought I had a really good system going. I do 2-3 loads of clothes every weekend (whites, colours, darks). On top of that, I alternate between bedding and towels, doing two towel loads every other weekend (including dish towels, cleaning rags, etc.). If I were to take said advice, I would have to have 15 towels to keep me, my hair and my boyfriend in drying business for the two weeks. Ain’t nobody got space for that! (And by that, I mean I don’t have space to store 15+ towels in my house unless I want to sacrifice a bookshelf or something.)

Now I know you’ll say I could just wash towels more frequently. The boyfriend and I are both busy IT professionals who probably work longer than we should. Neither of us has time to be washing towels every three days and all the other frankly OTT recommendations of our modern world.

And I mean that. These kinds of articles are popping up everywhere, joining all the other advice on how to avoid bacteria at all costs. This is scaremongering. When was the last time someone died because they didn’t wash their towel for a month, or even a few? I was perfectly healthy in my first year of university, where I avoided doing too much laundry because it involved lugging a bag/suitcase/basket outside to the designated laundry room. This room was small and had maybe five machines that had to be shared by hundreds of first-year students. There was no way I was going to go all that way and pay a pound every three days just to spare myself from coming in contact with bacteria.

It’s like the advice to have separate chopping boards for meat and vegetables. I’m sure there are those of you out there who are a stickler for this protocol, but I can assure you that I am still alive despite using the same boards for both. Gasp!

I also grew up licking the spoon when baking, and not once did I get salmonella, but the way the media goes on about it you’d think it was inevitable. I ran around outside, made mud pies, broke both arms and played with farm animals. I’m 23 and still here!

The fact is, bacteria is everywhere, including all over and inside your body. I am in the camp that believes that people have survived quite well without all this overprotection. I’m not saying to not wash your hands or use the same knife over and over without washing it, but I am suggesting that you use your common sense and not go overboard by taking every link-bait suggestion out there. Your immune system will thank you for giving it some exercise. 😉

Top tips for living with Cold Urticaria.

Now that I’ve experienced this interesting allergy for the past three months, I’d like to share what I’ve learned about dealing with cold urticaria (an allergy to cold). Hopefully this will be of use to anyone else out there who finds themselves getting rashes and hives from exposure to cold.

  1. The itching does not go away simply by distracting yourself for a minute. It’s not like a mosquito bite. The only way it’s going to subside is if the area warms up. I have naturally cold feet, and I suffered through three very distracted hours last week in meetings because I wasn’t wearing my now customary two pairs of socks.
  2. Never, ever walk without at least socks on, if not slippers/shoes. Trust me, itchy feet are massively irritating and make you look very stupid when you find yourself hopping around because the movement is somehow soothing. As stated in the previous paragraph, I wear two pairs of socks, and now that it’s starting to get properly cold in the UK, I wear a normal pair covered by a thermal pair. Even then, I occasionally get itchy heels.
  3. The quickest way to help the itching subside is to deliberately warm up the area. I find running my hands in very warm water particularly helpful.
  4. Dry off properly after bathing/showering. I have learned the hard way to target my ankles and feet quickly.
  5. If you’re a girl, avoid shaving your legs, unless you like the feeling of hundreds of pinpricks when your legs get cold. It goes from being itchy to actually stinging when your freshly shaved legs experience a walk outside in the cold.
  6. Invest in thermals and lots of knitted layers.
  7. Stock up on scarves, gloves and hats/earmuffs. I’ve even considered getting a balaclava to protect my face, but I have yet to give up that part of my dignity.
  8. Avoid the direct path of air conditioners.
  9. If you can’t avoid air-conditioned rooms (e.g. your coworkers run on the warm side and like to keep the room cool), don’t forget to bring something warm wherever you go. Take it with you to any meeting rooms where the other members of the meeting want to turn the air conditioning on.
  10. Exercise is not your friend. I’ve discovered that I can be warm internally, but if my skin cools down, I’ll get rashes. This has been particularly annoying when walking quickly to places (I get warm, take off my coat and then get itchy), as well as when exercising. As your sweat evaporates, your skin cools, even though you’re so hot you’re sweating – vicious! I did a 45-minute workout on Monday in my heated house, and I had rashes everywhere by the end of it. A hot shower was very welcome.
  11. Medication does not work. This is my least favourite tip to write, as it’s the most disappointing. I have tried a few antihistamines, and none have controlled these reactions. Maybe this isn’t the case for everyone, but I want you to know so that you don’t get your hopes up. I read a few reputable websites that claimed they’d work, but (recommended by my GP) claims that 4 times the usual dose can work. For me it didn’t, so my GP has contacted a dermatologist by email to see if they have any further suggestions.

Please do let me know if you are also living with cold urticaria. Ask me questions, and I will try to answer as honestly as I can. We’re a rare bunch, so we need to help each other out!