Allergic to the cold
While many people don’t like it, some are actually allergic to cold temperatures
Lewisporte High School Student Kiley Wells used to fly up and down the ice in provincial figure skating competitions, until she learned it could be life-threatening.
“I like to call it cold hives, that’s what my doctor always calls it,” Wells told the Pilot. “I don’t know what the technical name is.”
The technical name is cold urticaria, which basically means cold hives. The disorder causes large red welts form on the skin after exposure to a cold. The welts are usually itchy and often the hands and feet will become itchy and swollen as well.
It is an allergy, to the cold. Those are the same symptoms first experienced by Wells. She began figure skating at age two, and by the time her symptoms began to take hold in 2011 she held regional and provincial titles, and was named Canskater of the Year in Newfoundland.
“I would go to the rink and the more you would sweat, the colder the air. Temperature difference is the worst,” said Wells.
The first suspect for her hives was laundry detergent. Wells says she was always known as ‘the one with sensitive skin,’ and when changing detergents didn’t do the trick, they looked at other suspects.
“Dad said, ‘well maybe it’s something from the Zamboni’, so I waited and got on the ice a little bit later,” said Wells. “After a little bit…, nothing changed, so I said to Mom, ‘do you think it could be the cold’, and she just laughed at me.”
However a specialist appointment was made, and the rare diagnosis confirmed. While Wells does not, and cannot compete any longer, the confirmation allowed her to take steps to protect herself.
The severity of cold urticaria symptoms can vary widely. Some people have minor reactions to cold, while others have severe reactions. Swimming in cold water is the most common cause of a whole-body (systemic) reaction and can lead to very low blood pressure, fainting, shock and even death.
Wells has an Epipen in case her symptoms become too severe. Just like with other allergies, the Epipen can prevent anaphylactic shock and save Wells’ life during an episode.
It is a challenge though, many people just do not understand, or are willing to accept, a cold allergy.
“They kind of brush it off, (like) this is not a thing, I’m like, I am 100 per cent serious,” said Wells. “Or, ‘well I’m allergic to the cold too.’”
Even attendance at her high school graduation ceremony was in doubt at one point. The high school traditionally holds the ceremony at the town stadium, but there is also usually no heat in the building. A lack of heating would mean Wells would not be able to attend the event in a gown, but rather would have required bundling up.
“Believe it or not, not all of my teachers know (about the allergy), which is probably not a good thing,” said Wells with a laugh. “We were really nervous at first because the girls walk around in their dresses and I would not be able to do that. All of my grad pictures would be me in a blanket and I don’t want that.”
After some negations, Wells says the school has agreed to ensure the heat will be on this year at the stadium. Wells will be there too, in her gown, enjoying her graduation with all the other students.