4 Things You Need To Know About Cold Urticaria

Posted on: 2 September 2015


It's common knowledge that exposure to allergens can lead to hives, but other things can also lead to the formation of these itchy welts. Surprisingly, even cold weather can lead to this uncomfortable reaction. Doctors call this condition cold urticaria; here are four things you need to know about it.

What are the symptoms of cold urticaria?

People with cold urticaria develop itchy, red welts on their skin following exposure to cold temperatures. Your hands may become swollen if you hold a cold object such as a glass of ice water. Exposing your entire body to cold temperatures such as jumping into a cold lake or having an ice cold shower can lead to a more serious reaction, known as anaphylaxis.

During anaphylaxis, the body abruptly releases histamine which makes blood vessels throughout the body dilate. This sudden dilation leads to very low blood pressure and even shock. The tongue and throat may also swell, making it hard or even impossible to breathe. This type of reaction is very serious and can be life-threatening, so cold urticaria needs to be taken seriously.

Why does cold cause this reaction?

When people with cold urticaria are exposed to cold temperatures, their body produces histamine, a chemical that is involved in allergic reactions. This chemical is responsible for the hives and itching associated with cold urticaria.

Researchers still don't know why cold temperatures cause have this effect on some people but not others. One theory is that some people have more sensitive skin cells than others. These people may be more sensitive due to their genes or due to acquired conditions like illnesses. More research still needs to be done to find out how cold temperatures lead to this reaction.

How do dermatologists treat it?

Your dermatologist will recommend avoiding exposure to the cold, though this can be challenging, especially if you live in a cold climate. Fortunately, medications are available. The first line of treatment is low-dose antihistamines, and if they aren't effective, the dosage will be increased. Your dermatologist may also recommend applying corticosteroid cream to your skin to help reduce inflammation.

How common is cold urticaria?

Cold urticaria is a fairly rare condition. It only represents about 3% of chronic urticaria cases. It is more common among young adults, but it can occur in any age group. It tends to be slightly more common among women than among men.

If you experience hives after exposure to the cold, see a dermatologist, like those at Southwest Dermatology Institute, right away.