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!

I never thought I’d say this, but I need to stop studying!

I’m taking a break from online courses. There’s just so much out there, and I’ve given into my urges to enrol in every interesting course that comes along. The problem is, I’m seriously raising my stress levels trying to juggle 4-5 courses at once. I’m already working extra hours because we’re at our busiest period (start of the school year at an online education company), and trying to do all my coursework on top of that means that other parts of my life are suffering.

I set out at the start of the year to study three courses over the year, and with over a quarter of the year left, I’ve already completed four. Meanwhile, I’ve neglected other challenges, like knitting, painting and sketching. Sadly, these activities would actually help me reduce my stress levels if I took the time to engage in them. This manic need to learn everything all at once needs to stop today!

Hopefully, by taking this time away from studying, I can spend more time relaxing and engaging with the world outside of the computer. I spend my whole day at a computer, working to ensure that others can study and pass their exams. I need to focus on my body – both my physical health and my mental health. I’ll try to also keep my promise to blog at least once a month, but I also need to catch up on my reading!

Has anyone else struggled with this strange addiction to online learning?

Fun fact: You can be allergic to the cold.

It’s called Cold Urticaria, and it can be either inherited or acquired. I’m fairly sure I’ve acquired it. And I’m writing this to share how I figured it out so that if anyone else out there is going crazy from the itchiness and mystery, that might figure it out too.

Two and a half weeks ago (on the Wednesday), I felt my fingers getting itchy. It irritated me for a little while, then faded away. The same thing happened the next day, but I didn’t think much of it. Actually, that’s a lie – I googled ‘itchy fingers’ and gave myself a little fright, as people with diabetes can get itchy fingers, it seems. I didn’t think it was an allergic reaction at the time, as I’ve never had allergic rashes before, and I’ve only ever had hives once when a cat licked my face.

That Saturday, I went to Fountains Abbey with Flan. We were up in Yorkshire for a wedding, and we had a few hours to spare before having to get dressed up for the event. It was a little chilly, and there was a bit of wind and a scattering of drizzle. At the top of the hill, by the entrance, my hands got itchy, from my fingers to my wrists. It faded after we’d walked down the hill and the sun had come out for a bit, but the rash came straight back as we got to the hilltop again. I put it down to just being allergic to some unique Yorkshire plant that was found there.

Itchy hands in Yorkshire
Itchy hands in Yorkshire

The reception that afternoon was primarily outdoors, with the sun out but a breeze going. Any uncovered skin turned red and blotchy, and I started to go mad from the itchiness everywhere. My neck, my ears, my arms, my knees… The bride’s mother gave me some antihistamines, but the only thing that helped was to stay in the tents, where the allergen couldn’t get to me. Again, at the time, we all assumed I was allergic to a plant found in Yorkshire.

Fast forward a few days, and I’d noticed the rashes appearing more frequently on my legs and arms, going particularly pink after an hour in a heavily air-conditioned room. Not Yorkshire then. I went to the doctor, an absolutely delightful and genuinely caring GP for a change, who prescribed me a short course of steroids and stronger antihistamines. The steroids were amazing, and I didn’t have any rashes while on them. Unfortunately, they came to an end, and in stunning fashion.

I took the last two on the Saturday morning a week ago, then went out for dinner in the evening, having to walk quite a bit between buildings and buses. Arriving at the restaurant, my nose was red and a little numb, and my hands were pink and blotchy. Both faded over the course of 15 minutes. The fun really started on the way home, when the weather had cooled down further. (So much for summer, eh?) By the time I got home, I was itchy all over, with rashes covering most of my body, head to toe.

Arm rash after walking home from the bus stop
Arm rash after walking home from the bus stop

This is when I started to get a bit suspicious. I noticed that, on my legs, the rashes were redder at the front, only a bit spotty at the back. The more covered area of my torso was fine, having worn several layers, including a tank top underneath my shirt. I think this is when I first voiced—jokingly—that I must be allergic to the cold. I didn’t think it could be possible.

The doctor I’d seen had said to come back the following week to see one of her colleagues (she was on holiday), and I awaited this appointment eagerly. I was having daily cases of rashes and red noses just from the quick trip to work. One morning, my fingers even got swollen from the walk into the office, and they didn’t feel normal for a couple of hours after. I wanted some answers, and expected a blood test and/or referral to an allergy specialist.

But the night before the appointment, I got feverish from something seemingly unrelated, and it was painful to take deep breaths the next morning. My fever had gone down, and I wasn’t shivering, but my neck was very tense and my chest felt tight. The doctor was (understandably, I suppose) dismissive of my allergic reactions and cared more about my breathing. After checking my oxygen saturation level, she sent me away, promising to talk with ‘the medical team’ about my breathing problems. She didn’t care that I’d actually come in for a specific reason, smiling and saying not to worry about it in that very over friendly and condescending manner that some doctors have.

I received the promised phone call and was asked to come in the next morning for a D-Dimer test with a nurse. I had no chest pain the next morning, but I did have rashes on my ankles, so I persuaded the nurse to also take some blood for allergy tests, as the original doctor had suggested I get. I’m still waiting on those results.

I’d read about cold urticaria at this point, but I’d dismissed it since I wasn’t getting hives, just red, flat splotches of colour. However, I was frustrated with waiting, and the next appointment I could get with a doctor was two weeks away. This morning, my fingers got red and swollen from holding my cold cereal bowl, which made me think about giving the diagnostic test a try.

What’s this test? You simply place an ice cube on one’s skin for 4-5 minutes and seeing if a hive forms – perfect for self-diagnosing. Having no ice cubes, I took a cold gel pack that had been in the freezer and rested the corner against my arm for 30 seconds. That’s all the time it needed to form a full-on hive, which didn’t go down for about an hour!

Cold urticaria ice test result
Cold urticaria ice test result

Looking at the photo above, I’m fairly sure that what’s been driving me crazy the past few weeks is cold urticaria. I’ll take my evidence to the doctor when I eventually see him, but in the meantime, I whipping out the gloves and scarves, and maybe a balaclava to cover my face so I don’t look like Rudolph. Not exactly the fashion in late summer/early autumn, but I guess this is further proof that I’m allergic to England!


My resources:

Cold urticaria – Wikipedia
Cold urticaria definition – Mayo Clinic