I Have Cold-Dependent Dermatographism, Also Known As An Allergy to Cold Temperatures — And You Thought YOU Hated Winter
So in case you haven't noticed, this winter has been really freaking cold and snowy across the United States; in fact, at several points this season, it's actually been colder here than it is on Mars, where the temperature hovered around 17 degrees Fahrenheit. For many people, winter and the cold weather that comes with it can produce a variety of problems, including sleeplessness, a decrease in libido, and just a general sense of dread. While I sympathize with everyone else's very real winter-related struggles, cold weather brings about a rather peculiar issue for me in particular, making it extremely hard to function without being pretty heavily medicated. You see, I am literally allergic to the cold.
When I've tried to explain this allergy to people I'm generally met with laughter or sarcastic responses like "yeah, aren't we all, kid"? I will admit, it sounds like the most absurd thing in the world because HOW COULD SOMEONE BE ALLERGIC TO THE COLD. It's like saying you're allergic to Mondays — a joke people make that is not backed up by reality (though it may feel like it). But it's not a joke — my allergy to the cold is actually a confirmed chronic health problem experienced by some young adults called Cold-Dependent Dermatographism; or, depending on which doctor you speak to, is actually two different problems called Cold Urticaria and Dermotographism.
Here's how it works: cold weather, for some unknown reason, triggers histamines in my body despite the lack of an actual antigen, causing huge hives, welts, and swelling. For some people, these things occur in areas exposed to the cold, but I experience full-body hives even if most of my skin is covered up, and swelling in my extremities (hands, ears, and feet) as well as other super awkward places like my eyelids and tongue. The hives, which first appear on my face, hands, and back, become super itchy and the itching, which causes its own histamine response, then spreads to my entire body until I'm completely covered in hives and itching so uncontrollably that my hands begin to get sore and my skin begins to scab and bleed. Yeah, super gross, I know. And yet I still wonder why no one asked me to prom.
The constant itching is debilitating to the point where it's dangerous for me to do pretty basic things like drive, carry hot or fragile things, or give a presentation in front of a class if I ever want to preserve my reputation as a relatively normal human. It also makes it really hard for me to do everyday things many people take for-granted, like:
- Taking ice out of ice cube trays to put in water (my hands get swollen)
- Eating things straight out of the fridge or freezer, even when it's summer and I just want some ice cream (my tongue and throat get swollen)
- Getting out of the shower if my shower was hotter than room temperature and my body loses heat in the process
- Moving from the suffocating heat of the subway to the real-world atrocity that is New England Winter
- Ice skating because if I fall and my skin makes contact with the ice, it's all over
- EVER ENJOYING ANYTHING (just kidding, kinda)
Fortunately, there's hope. While there's no real cure and normal antihistamines don't typically work, there's a medication that works as an antihistamine as well as a serotonin inhibitor and local anesthetic that makes the itching a little bit better. Even though it makes me drowsy, I can trust that if I take it before bed, it'll make my symptoms in the morning a little better which is all I need to make sure I can get through a class without being distracted, go out to dinner without being bleeding all over the place, and continue to have semi-successful Tinder dates with all sorts of babes (until they realize I'm a monster) (just kidding).
You thought you hated winter? Try living my life.