Yes, You Really Can Be Allergic to the Cold

What to do if frosty temperatures give you the hives
Yes, You Really Can Be Allergic to the Cold

After months of frigid weather, you might joke that you’re allergic to the cold. But some people really do have an allergy to cold temperatures.

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This winter has been exceptionally tough for people with a sensitivity to cold, says immunologist Sandra Hong, MD.

“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,” she says. “This year has been particularly hard for individuals because it has been so cold. If there are low wind chill factors, they definitely can be affected by that.”

 Reaction lasts less than a day

Cold allergy often causes an itchy rash, redness, swelling and hives on areas of uncovered skin that have contact with cold air, water or cold surfaces.

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The allergic reaction usually lasts less than 24 hours, Dr. Hong says. But severe cases – such as when somebody swims in icy water – can lead to fainting, shock and even death.

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

An uncommon condition

A true sensitivity to cold is rare, Dr. Hong says. Most cases are found in colder climates and children and young people are the typical sufferers. But just about anybody can develop the condition.

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“Anyone can have it at any point in their life,” Dr. Hong says. “But the nice thing is that half of the people who have it will see it will go away in five years.”

People with a cold allergy can take an antihistamine to relieve their symptoms, Dr. Hong says. They also should carry epinephrine in case of an emergency.

Dr. Hong advises people with a sensitivity to cold to avoid cold temperatures. It also will help to bundle up completely when going outside.

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