October 8, 2020

It’s True — You Really Can Be Allergic to the Cold

What to do if cold urticaria gives you hives

thermometer through frosty window

For many, those frigid, cool-you-to-the-bone temperatures get old after a while. You might even start joking around that you’re allergic to the cold and can’t wait for warm temperatures to begin.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

All jokes aside, some people really do have an allergy to cold temperatures.

“If someone has a cold allergy, every time they go out in certain temperatures, they’ll break out in hives in any of the areas that’s exposed to the temperatures,” says allergist Sandra Hong, MD. “If there are low wind chill factors, they definitely can be affected by that.”

How do I know if I have this allergy?

This cold allergy, also called cold urticaria, often causes an itchy rash, redness, swelling and hives on areas of uncovered skin that have contact with cold air, water or cold surfaces. The reaction usually occurs within five to 10 minutes after exposure to the cold and can last for about one to two hours, according to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center.

Females are more likely to have it than males, and in some cases, a cold allergy often goes away after a few years. Severe cases – such as when somebody swims in icy water – can lead to fainting, shock and even death.

Advertisement

“If individuals are out for long periods of time, or they’re in very cold temperatures or have a lot of skin that’s exposed, they can actually have these allergic reactions,” says Dr. Hong. “They can be life-threatening, too.”

If you see your allergist or dermatologist, they will be able to test your skin to see if you have a reaction. The American Academy of Dermatology Association notes that a dermatologist might place a plastic bag with ice cubes on your forearm to see how your skin reacts to the cold.

An uncommon condition

A true sensitivity to cold is rare, but most cases are found in colder climates. Although children and young people are typical sufferers, just about anybody can develop the condition.

“Anyone can have it at any point in their life,” says Dr. Hong. “The good news is that a majority of people who have it will see it will go away in five years.”

Advertisement

If you have a cold allergy, you can take an antihistamine to relieve your symptoms. Remember to also carry epinephrine in case of an emergency, which you inject into your outer thigh. Be sure to ask your allergist or immunologist which medication would work best for you.

The best way to make sure you don’t suffer from a cold allergy is to try to avoid cold temperatures altogether. However, if you live in the colder parts of the world, you know how difficult it is to completely avoid plummeting temperatures. If you have to venture outside, remember to bundle up completely with a hat, gloves, scarf, boots and layers of clothing to make sure you’re kept warm.

Related Articles

female on couch, holding mug, under blanket, blowing nose, cat on couch
January 22, 2024
Why Are My Allergies Acting Up in Winter?

Indoor allergens know no season!

Sick person on couch using tissue on nose with medication bottles on coffee table
January 19, 2024
How To Know if It’s COVID-19, a Cold or Allergies

Symptoms can overlap and be hard to distinguish, but there are some telltale differences

seed pods exploding in spring
February 26, 2023
Why Are My Allergies So Bad?

Time of day, time of year and weather patterns can all make your allergies worse

Friends laughing and spending time together outside in winter.
December 15, 2022
How the Norwegian Concept of Koselig Can Get You Through the Winter

Cozying up with friends and family can make cold, dark days more meaningful

Person blowing snow off of gloved hands while outside during cold winter weather.
December 13, 2022
Braving the Elements: Tips To Stay Safe Outdoors This Winter

Bottom line? Dress warm, be careful and plan ahead to get the most out of the season

Person working from home, sitting on an exercise ball.
December 7, 2022
10 Steps for Staying Healthy This Winter

Sneak in exercise when you can, pack your own lunch and make time for mental health

Person walking in winter boots on a path that has been shoveled or cleared.
November 30, 2022
How To Walk in Snow and Avoid Winter Hazards

Taking slow, short steps and wearing proper footwear can go a long way in preventing falls

Laughing people participating in a snowball fight.
November 17, 2022
9 Tips To Stay Healthy During the Long, Cold Winter Months

With planning and precautions, you may be able to keep winter health issues at bay

Trending Topics

close up of keto gummies
Do Keto Gummies Work for Weight Loss? Are They Safe?

Research is inconclusive whether or not these supplements are helpful

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

Older person postioned sideways showing dowager hump.
Dowager’s Hump: What It Is and How To Get Rid of It

The hump at the base of your neck may be caused by osteoporosis or poor posture

Ad