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What is Physical Urticaria?

Swimmer's Issue: Allergy to Cold Water?

I've been swimming a lot lately and after a workout last week, one of the other ladies was asking me about where I got my bathing suit. I couldn't help but notice her skin. I said, "I'm no doctor, but I think you've broken out in hives." She just laughed and said that it always happens when she swims in cold water. I couldn't believed she was so nonchalant about it, since her body looked like a range of moguls on a Black Diamond ski trail. She said it doesn't hurt and always goes away, so she thought it wasn't a big deal.

When I went home, I couldn't get that image of her hive-covered skin out of my mind, so I decided to do a little Internet research. In the medical world, this condition is called physical urticaria.

When a person has this condition, there's a physical trigger that causes raised skin welts like what you see in the photo above. It could be set off by heat, cold, sunlight, exercise, or water. More specifically, cold uticaria is an allergic reaction, where the skin produces histamine in response to cold temps, in this case to cold water. Apparently it's pretty common for 18 to 25 year olds, but it only lasts for five to six years.

The woman at the gym said that her rash is pretty mild and usually goes away after an hour or two. Reactions can be more serious though causing shortness of breath, stomach pains, or a rapid heartbeat. In severe cases, low blood pressure, fainting, shock, or even death can occur. I always thought swimming was so good for people. I had no idea it could be such a health risk.

Have you or someone you know ever experienced anything like this?

Image Source: Thinkstock
Join The Conversation
stefniamoo stefniamoo 4 years
I have this and i carry an Epi-pen wherever i go. having this makes it so that when people ask me their reaction is "what? how? is that even possible?" But even though it sounds like something that sticks out, and one might be more likely to remember, It just so happens to be indeed the other way around. People forget that im allergic to cold like an alzheimer´s patient forgets whats for dinner. At work they keep asking me to "take out the boxes" which inclused the part of actually going outside, where its cold. And its not only work its family too. on a day where its not only snowing, but also very cold and very windy I am the one asked to go walk to the store to buy milk instead of my sister who could as well go. Quite frankly i have tried saying "but im allergic to cold" i always get the same answer "well then dress up for the weather!" whats they seem not to understand is that when i say "im allergic to codl with a kind of a skin allergy" they tend to forget that the ENTIRE body is covered with skin. Even if i dress up in a great winter coat, winter boots and winter pants with winter gloves and a winter hat.... My nose will still be uncovered. true is that i could fix that by adding a kind of a scarf to cover up to my nose. Still my eyes would be left out. and just a tiny bit of wind/cold to my eyelids and ill be feeling pretty sleepy pretty soon. so i would need to add ski-ing glasses and im read to go. however i do think thats a bit too much hazzle just to take out the boxes or just to go to the store. and honestly im tired of hearing this "can you do this thing? (that needs you to be or go somewhere where its cold)" im really really tired of it. and im not really allowed to say "no. im sorry i cant." -"Why?" "well to refresh your memory im allergic to cold and youre asking me to do something that will trigger my allergy and make me sleepy for the next 3-4 hours." -" (home- well then since youre so lazy well forget dinner. you lazy person) or at work( are you tellign me you wont do what I your boss is askign you to do ? keep this on and youll be fired)" so you see. i hate how "nice" people are "knowing" that i have cold allergy. At the days of work when im asked to take the boxes outside i try and do that as quick as possible but when i come back inside im tired for the next 3 hours. Last time i felt as sleepy as someone listening to a 5 hour lecture told by morgan freeman with his soft voice. i had a really hard time just keeping my head up. Rant is over thank you for reading it.
ourfamilystone ourfamilystone 4 years
My Mom sufferes from sever Cold Urticaria. It's enough that holding a cold carrot to peel it causes her hands to swell, she carries an epi-pen because should she ever fall into cold water, or get caught in a cool (not even cold) downpour it could be life threatening. Thank you for posting about it. The more people know the less she'll be crititsized and ostersized for her allergy. It's so difficult for her and so many laugh and joke as though it's funny.
emmy87 emmy87 5 years
This happens to me when i swim in cold water it is usually more severe when the outside tempertaure varies a lot compared with the water temperature. I break out in hives, my skins starts to have like a burning sensation, my throat tightens and breathing becomes very difficult, i also become very light headed/faint and my heart races. I generally try to avoid cold water!! When i eat icecreams even my throat begins to tighten and i cough and wheeze. Quite an uncomfortable condition and can be very distressing. This has been happening to me since i was around 16 years old.
lydell lydell 5 years
Wanna throw my 2 cents in here. I have had it off and on since I was 19 (I am 37 now). It really sucks because it makes me afraid to go in the water, and the water is my very favorite place to be in the world. In the last 6 years, it has gotten worse and now includes cool damp air as a possible cause of hives. On 4 occasions, one when I was 19 and 3 in the last 4 years, swimming in cold water caused me to get break out, get dizzy, and eventually lose consciousness. It has taken 2 hours before I have been able to sit up without passing out. It seems to be a fairly predictable consequence to cold water exposure for me now, which really sucks. I smoke cigarettes currently, and I think that the constriction of vessels that occurs with smoking has made it worse. My theory is that the allergy has to do with your circulatory response to temperature change, and when I am all constricted from coffee and smoking I seem to be more suseptable. Wish me luck on quitting smoking and getting back into the water.
elijahsmom06 elijahsmom06 5 years
Since last December, I break out in hives if I get too hot from working, or in the sun or if the water i use in the shower or tub is too hot or for too long.. I was hoping after I had a partial hysterectomy that it would resolve this, but it hasn't. It is so frustrating.
elijahsmom06 elijahsmom06 5 years
Since last December, I break out in hives if I get too hot from working, or in the sun or if the water i use in the shower or tub is too hot or for too long.. I was hoping after I had a partial hysterectomy that it would resolve this, but it hasn't. It is so frustrarting.
Nathalie10 Nathalie10 5 years I know I am not alone! And there is a name for this I have been suffering for over 10 years..I get itchy and swollen full I hives to anything that is cold. The first time it happen I scratched to the point of having blood come out. Is there something I can take to help out a bit?? Thanks!
jaylynn2011 jaylynn2011 5 years
i think my six year old son has this he gets it when he comes in contact with cold water and air i noticed it when he got wet with the hose one day and again when he went swimming and the weird thing is that when he eats ice his lips swell up
mommof4 mommof4 5 years
My daughter has this. It started two (ish) years ago when we were at a hotel and the pool was really cold. She jumped in and swam for a few minutes then got out due to cold and then the hives started. Cold weather and cold water are triggers so far. She is 13 and has asthma and other allergies...not too bad though. People do stare and think she is contagious. My other three children are not affected by this problem (at least not yet) and they are 15, 7 and 3. We always have benadryl with us.
xXDariaXx xXDariaXx 6 years
I get these same hives from my ankles to my back when ever i swim in cold water. I've had to deal with this ever since I was 6 and now i'm 14, making it very hard to enjoy a little swim in a cool pool during a hot day. Not fun and it always seems as if im a freak, but im not. Its just that im literally allergic to the cold. :)
pamduvallcrump pamduvallcrump 6 years
My oldest son, he is almost 19, just started breaking out this summer every time he goes swimming. It goes away in 30 minutes to 1 hour. I thought it was an allergy to clorine, but yesterday, the same thing happened when he got wet with a water hose....well water. I researched on the internet and had a prescription called in today. We are trying Zyrtec. We will see how it works. He has no other symptoms other than breaking out in red bloches with white spots.
Paulineb Paulineb 6 years
I have had this all my life but it's getting worse with age. I have always loved water sport but cannot indulge unless it is warm water. My face and fingers particularly swell up and my blood pressure drops and if I don't warm up quickly I will faint. It is a right pain! It is caused by cold water or damp cold, cold wind that type of thing. Not good when you live in a wet climate! Wish I could find a cure as it really bothers me.
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