Cold air allergy, also known as cold urticaria, is a response brought about by the reaction of the body system to a cold environment. Cold allergy may trigger abnormal respiratory and other physical responses. This abnormal body reaction to cold may lead to life-threatening conditions that merit immediate medical attention. The condition can be prevented with medication.
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Cold weather can trigger the protective mechanism of the immune system to release antibodies that can activate allergy symptoms. Allergy to cold may exacerbate serious respiratory conditions like asthma. Cold air is sometimes the only trigger for asthma symptoms. The colder the air, the more severe the symptoms that occur. Sensitivity to cold air may cause not only respiratory symptoms, but other systemic reactions that could lead to more serious conditions.
The body’s response to cold activates the release of histamine that may cause the manifestations of both respiratory and systemic symptoms. The Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings identified histamine to be the main mediator of the allergic response to cold. Cold air may cause the mucus to become thicker and capillaries in the nose to become swollen in response to the cold air passing through the nose.
The exposure to cold triggers the release of antibodies that may cause redness of the skin, hives, itching and swelling. Severe reaction to cold may result in shock, fainting and death. Localized or generalized rashes can occur on the skin. According to the New Zealand Dermatological Society, systemic responses to cold air allergy include shortness of breath, irregular and rapid heartbeat, gastrointestinal ulcers, abdominal pain and a significant drop in blood pressure. Respiratory symptoms manifest as sneezing, watery eyes and nasal congestion.
Medication is the main treatment to control the allergic reaction in the body, although it does not provide a cure. Antihistamines help block the release of histamine, which causes the reactive symptoms to occur.
Because exposure to cold is the main trigger for allergic reactions, the best prevention is to avoid cold temperatures. Protect your body with thick clothes and wear mittens and a scarf during cold weather. Limit outdoor activities during cold weather and bathe with warm water to prevent a sudden drop in body temperature.