PEOPLE WHO ARE ALLERGIC TO THE COLD
Can You Be Allergic to the Cold?
Another strike against winter weather
BY RACHAEL SCHULTZ
If wintry weather
is on your last nerve, it could be worse. That’s right, you could be allergic to the cold.
“People with something called cold urticaria break out in itchy red hives wherever they’ve been in contact with the cold,” says Stanley Fineman, M.D., past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). Their hands and lips can swell from holding or eating chilly objects or food—that means no frosty beers or iced coffee!. In more rare cases, people can faint from exposure to frigid temperatures.
The allergy isn’t very common: The Cold Urticaria Foundation reports that the disease affects one in 100,000—one hundredththe number of men who develop breast cancer. And most kids who suffer from it grow out of the allergy, including Canadian Olympic skier Noah Bowman, who shed the ailment early enough to take up winter sports and eventually compete in the Sochi Olympics.
But just because you’re free of this particular allergy doesn’t mean your body is immune to chilly temperatures. Below, three ways below-normal digits mess with your health.
Your lungs have to work harder
“Going from a hot to cold environment can trigger any type of hypersensitive reaction,” says Dr. Fineman. The one we’re all probably most familiar with? That feeling of icy shards in your chest when you breathe heavily in frigid temperatures. “Your lungs like warm, humid environments, so dry and cold air makes it more challenging for your respiratory lining,” Dr. Fineman explains. And while this is enough for most of us to trade an outdoor track for a treadmill, this chest pain can be a constant battle for people with asthma during the winter. For the most part, dressing appropriately—like a scarf over your face to keep humidity in your lungs—can help if you’re feeling the pain, says Dr. Fineman.
Your head can pound
Leaving the house can be cruel if you’re migraine-prone: A recent study found that changes in temperature and humidity can trigger migraines in most sufferers—and going from your warm house to snow-covered streets is enough to set you up for a pounding. Fight back by working out. People who did aerobic exercise three times a week for 10 weeks experienced 50 percent fewer headache days per month, according to a recent German study.
Allergies can come early
Even though we commonly associate allergies with springtime, there are actually a lot of winter irritants that cause itchy eyes and sneezing, Dr. Fineman says. Key among them is mold. “The wet snow and ice increase humidity and dampness indoors, which allows mold to grow,” he says. Plus, household pets spend more time inside, so your shedding pooch—and all the irritants that come in on his fur—can aggravate your sensitivities. Like you would in warmer weather, take an antihistamine to control symptoms, Dr. Fineman says.