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 Dermnetnz.org (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!

Losing a pet is tough, even when it’s “just a hamster”.

I woke up this morning exhausted after a restless night involving being mauled by a lion, so it didn’t start well. When I got up, I walked towards the bathroom, passing my hamsters’ cage. I didn’t make it to the bathroom. Lying on her back in the sawdust was one of my hamsters, Juju. She wasn’t moving, and I knew straight away that she’d passed away. I knew, but I didn’t believe. I didn’t want to believe.

I have—or should I say had—two hamsters, Yuki and Juju. I bought them last March to celebrate being asked to stay permanently at my first ‘real’ job, at which point they were already about 6 weeks old. They were sisters, both albino, but they were nothing alike. While Juju was curious, active and receptive to being picked up, Yuki was difficult from the beginning, with a knack for drawing blood and hiding away. That’s why I call her my hampire, especially with her bright red eyes. If I’d have given it thought before, I would have guessed that Yuki would go first, as she didn’t get a lot of exercise or seem that interested in food. Juju was always running, exploring and the first to get to a newly refilled bowl.

Juju's closeup

Juju shortly after we bought her.

So it was with dismay and some denial that I watched Juju start to get thinner and more frail. Her fur started thinning, and she was frequently scratching. I knew they were both getting older, but it seemed so strange that two sisters could age at different rates.

I did what I could. I made sure there was fresh food, including bits of cucumber and other nutritious treats. I made sure the cage was cleaned weekly and lots of bedding was put down to keep them warm as the weather got colder. I even got some tea tree oil cream from the pet shop to see if that helped with Juju’s itching.

Juju seemed worse than usual last night, and I wonder if she could sense her time was up. In the past, if I’ve made any noises or opened the cage, she’d at least peek her little twitchy nose out from wherever she was sleeping. As I said earlier, if I put any new food in the cage, she’d come scurrying at high speed. Last night, she didn’t make an appearance, even when I put some dried banana chips (her favourite) outside her cave. It was only when I slightly lifted up the cave that she came out a little. Flan had earlier had to actually reach in under the cave to get her to rub some cream on her skin, and he’d said her breathing sounded papery.

I was terrified, and I made up my mind to call the vet first thing in the morning. I didn’t want my poor baby suffering if there was something more I could do, medication to give her. I think that’s what made it so much harder this morning. I’d committed to taking her to the vet, and then it was too late.

I couldn’t go to work. It took me over an hour to work up the courage to get her out of the cage, and then it was only with Flan’s motorcycle glove and a lot of paper towel to carefully wrap her in (with paper bedding to pad around her legs, which were stiff with rigor mortis). I then put her in a biodegradable bin bag and put her to the side. I couldn’t handle the next stage: what to do with her body. I don’t have a proper garden; the small yard is covered in stone tiles and gravel. After lunch, tired and numb, I finally decided to go to the nearest garden centre, where I picked up an outdoor pot, soil and some plants. Despite not being one for gardening and plants in general, I found burying her under pretty flowers to be very therapeutic. I avoided it for hours, but I was glad once I’d finally finished the task.

A beautiful gravesite for my Juju

A beautiful gravesite (in the wind)

Now I know some people might say, “She was just a hamster.” I know because I’ve been told this. I realise losing a hamster is not quite like losing a human friend or family member, or even like losing a dog you’ve had for many years. Juju was only about 20 months old, but that was plenty of time for me to form an attachment to a small, fluffy creature that depended on me for her wellbeing. I don’t appreciate having my grief belittled by people who think I’m silly for caring about an insignificant animal. I loved my hamster, one of the many beautiful creatures on this planet, and I’m entitled to feel her loss even if she doesn’t have the brain size of a human.

Rest in peace, my sweet, cuddly ball of fur.

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?