All over Instagram, photos of snow-covered streets are replacing the standard food shots as the Polar Vortex sets in. According to CNN meteorologists, 75 percent of the continental United States will experience below freezing temperatures this week. For most of us, this week will be brutal, but bearable. But for people who are actually allergic to the cold, this weather can be downright deadly.
Although rare, it is entirely possible to be allergic to cold weather. Here’s what it’s like for people with the condition, known as cold urticaria:
What is cold urticaria?
As with other allergies, people who are allergic to the cold have severe reactions when they are exposed to cold weather, according to Dr. Earlexia M. Norwood of Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in Michigan. She explains to the Detroit Free Press that the severity and symptoms range by person, but can include skin reactions, like rashes, or low blood pressure.
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What are cold allergy symptoms?
They vary by person, but typically include red hives on parts of the skin exposed to the cold air. In severe cases, people may experience low blood pressure, heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, or shock, according to the National Institutes of Health. The rash typically begins just minutes after exposure and lasts roughly two hours.
Although this condition is particularly relevant during the winter season, some people may have problems eating cold foods, explains Dr. Eileen Wang, MD, MPH and assistant professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver.
“If you get red, itchy, and swollen skin five to 30 minutes after exposure to the cold, you may have cold urticaria. Other symptoms include swollen hands when holding a cold drink, or swollen lips or tongue when drinking a cold beverage,” she tells Men’s Health.
How cold is too cold? Typically, symptoms will be triggered when temperatures dip below 39 degrees Fahrenheit.
How many people are allergic to the cold?
The exact number of people with the condition are unknown, but some health professionals estimate that one in 100,000 people have cold urticaria. Generally, the condition is found in younger adults and those with certain health conditions, such as hepatitis or cancer.
Getty ImagesThai Yuan Lim / EyeEm
Why are some people allergic to the cold?
Doctors aren’t sure why some people suffer from cold urticaria, however there is some evidence the condition is more common in people who have conditions like viral hepatitis or leukemia.
But, sometimes you can’t avoid the cold. What are the treatment options?
Outside of avoiding cold temperatures, which isn’t always possible, doctors may prescribe antihistimines, which prevents the symptoms from popping up. Some people may even carry an epinephrine autoinjector, or EpiPen, to avoid going into anaphylactic shock.
Although the cold weather isn’t fatal for most of us, it’s still important to bundle up in these below-freezing temps in order to avoid getting frostbite of hypothermia. It’s best to opt for several layers of lightweight, breathable clothes, gloves, a hat and warm shoes, Men’s Health previously reported.
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