Here in Buffalo, NY, harsh winters and piles of snow are the norm. We may suffer from a terrible pollen season, but we’re used to blizzards and we embrace lake effect (or at least we try to!) However, for a small minority of the population, frigid temperatures mean hives and a swollen throat. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a cold allergy. Here’s one Alberta native’s story.

What is a Cold Allergy?

When Arianna Kent was 14 shoveling snow from her driveway, her throat suddenly started to close up. It took her two years to discover the real cause of her suffering, and even now, she ends up in the hospital around once a month when someone opens up the fridge suddenly or cranks up the air conditioning.

This cold allergy is officially known as cold urticaria—a condition in which individuals will break out in hives if exposed to cold temperatures. Cold urticaria only affects about 0.05% of the population, but it can have a massive impact on day-to-day life.

How Do You Cope with a Cold Allergy?

There is no way to cure cold allergies; however, there are a number of ways to treat them.
1. Antihistamines: You can take over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines if you know you’re going to have to go out in the cold. If your symptoms are severe, your doctor will also give you an EpiPen you can use in case of emergency.

2. Preventative Measures: Talk to your physician about ways you can avoid coming in contact with the cold. Make sure you wear temperature-appropriate clothing, avoid ice-cold drinks and frozen desserts, and check the temperature of the water before hopping in the pool. These steps won’t necessarily prevent an outbreak entirely, but if you’re careful, they should help minimize your discomfort significantly.

3. Desensitization: By taking cold showers you can gradually help your body to recognize cold temperatures as harmless. However, make sure to talk to your allergist before considering any treatment options on your own. Anaphylactic shock is a very real possibility and very dangerous.

How Do You Test for a Cold Allergy?

Most people have never heard of cold urticaria, and when they do hear about it, they don’t believe it. In fact, it sometimes takes doctors years to uncover the real trigger. Thankfully,there’s a fairly simple test you can use to diagnose a cold allergy. Simply hold an ice cube to the underside of your arm for four to five minutes and monitor your skin for any abnormal reactions.

Is There Hope?

If you do suffer from a cold allergy, then don’t despair. Many people outgrow cold allergies within a few years and even within a few months. You can also train your skin to become less sensitive to the cold over time so your allergy attacks are both less often and less severe.

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