Allergies to the Cold Weather

This is a very relevant subject now as we have had very cold temperatures so far over this last month in the Washington, DC, Northern, VA, and Maryland metropolitan area.  And yes, you read it correctly.  Individuals can be “allergic” to the cold.  There is a condition known as “cold-induced urticarial” in which exposure to the cold will cause hives (i.e., urticaria).  The annoying hives can be triggered by cold weather or cold water.  Being exposed to the cold weather, swimming in cold water, drinking a cold beverage, and/or being in an air conditioned room may all cause certain individuals to develop hives and other symptoms.  In addition to the hives, these other symptoms usually present as swelling (i.e., angioedema)itching (i.e., pruritus), redness of the skin or other rashes, dizziness, fatigue, wheezing, headaches, anxiety, and/or shortness of breath.

It is not uncommon to experience “cold” allergies and in some families, there is a genetic linkage.  Many people are perplexed with the notion that the cold environment can cause such symptoms.  Keep in mind that it is not unusual for anyone to experience minor symptoms when exposed to the cold weather.  These “normal” responses generally consist of a little red flushing of the exposed part of the body (usually the face).  One may also experience a minor burning sensation, especially upon re-warming of the involved skin.  Obviously, individuals that are exposed to very cold temperatures or cold temperatures over a prolonged period of time run the risk of frostbite which can be very serious, as it may result in gangrene and thus loss of limbs and other body parts.

Individuals with Raynaud’s phenomenon or Raynaud’s disease also have cold intolerance.  People with these conditions have cold fingers or toes, skin color changes, and/or numbness/prickly feeling upon re-warming of the skin when they are exposed to the cold.  Although the exact cause is not completely understood, the blood vessels in individuals with Raynaud’s overact to cold temperatures and/or stress.  Often people with Raynaud’s phenomenon will have an accompanying autoimmune disorder such as systemic lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, Sjögren’s syndrome, vasculitis, or rheumatoid arthritis.  Others still have increased symptoms if they smoke, develop carpal tunnel syndrome, acquire a disease of the arteries, partake in repetitive actions such as playing the piano, texting, typing, etc., injure their hands or feet, and/or are exposed to certain medications (e.g., ADHD medications, certain over the counter “cold” medications, migraine medications, certain chemotherapy medications, beta blockers).

Regardless of the condition, the cold can play havoc with one’s body.  Luckily, we do not live in the far north of the U.S. where cold is more of an issue for longer periods of time.  However, since we live in a more temperate climate, allergies to pollens (i.e., allergic rhinitis/hay fever) in the Spring and Fall tend to be worse in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area.

If you suffer from cold-induced symptoms of any kind, the board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have the expertise in order to diagnose and treat this condition.  We treat both adult and pediatric patients and have offices in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA.  We have on-site parking at each location and both the Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible.  Please either call us for an appointment or you may alternatively click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day.  The allergy doctors at Black & Kletz Allergy have been treating allergy and asthma patients in the Washington, DC metro area for more than 50 years and we strive to provide state of the art allergy care to its residents and visitors.