Cold urticaria

Cold urticaria (ur-tih-KAR-e-uh) is a skin reaction to cold. Skin that has been in contact with cold develops reddish, itchy welts (hives).

The severity of cold urticaria symptoms varies widely. Some people have minor reactions to cold, while others have severe reactions. Swimming in cold water is the most common cause of a whole-body (systemic) reaction. This could lead to very low blood pressure, fainting, shock and even death.

Cold urticaria occurs most frequently in young adults. And it generally clears up within a few years. If you think you have this condition, consult your doctor. Treatment for cold urticaria usually includes taking antihistamines and avoiding cold air and water.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Cold urticaria signs and symptoms include:

  • Temporary reddish, itchy welts (hives) on the area of skin that was exposed to cold
  • A worsening of the reaction as the skin warms
  • Swelling of hands when holding cold objects
  • Swelling of lips and throat when consuming cold food or drink

Severe reactions may include:

  • A whole-body response (anaphylaxis), which can cause fainting, a racing heart, swelling of limbs or torso, and shock
  • Swelling of the tongue and throat, which can make it difficult to breathe

Cold urticaria symptoms begin soon after the skin is exposed to a sudden drop in air temperature or to cold water. The majority of cold urticaria reactions occur when skin is exposed to temperatures lower than 39 F (4 C). But some people can have reactions to warmer temperatures. Damp and windy conditions may make cold urticaria more likely.

The worst reactions generally occur with full skin exposure, such as swimming in cold water. Such a reaction could lead to loss of consciousness and drowning.

In some people, cold urticaria goes away on its own after weeks or months. In others, it lasts longer.

When to see a doctor

If you have skin reactions after cold exposure, see a doctor. Even if the reactions are mild, your doctor will want to rule out underlying conditions that may be causing the problem.

Seek emergency care if after sudden exposure to cold you:

  • Feel dizzy
  • Have trouble breathing
  • Feel your tongue or throat swelling

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