No joke, you could be allergic to the cold

Published On: Mar 06 2014 09:39:44 PM EST   Updated On: Mar 06 2014 10:10:00 PM EST

After months of cold weather, you might joke that you're allergic to the cold. But some people really do have an allergy to cold temperatures. Dr. Sandra Hong, an allergist at Cleveland Clinic, says this winter has been exceptionally tough for people with a cold allergy, or cold urticaria.

"Every time they go out in certain temperatures they'll break out in hives in any of the areas that's exposed to the temperatures and this year has been particularly hard for individuals because it has been so cold and so if there's low wind chill factors they definitely can be affected by that," said Hong.

Cold allergy often causes an itchy rash, redness, swelling and hives on areas of the skin that are exposed to cold air, water or cold surfaces. The allergic reaction usually lasts less than 24 hours.  Severe cases, for example if somebody swims in cold water, can lead to fainting, shock and even death.

"If individuals are out for long periods of time, or they're in very cold temperatures, or they have a lot of skin that's exposed they can actually have these allergic reactions and they can be life threatening," warned Hong.

Hong says a true cold allergy is not very common. Most cases are found in colder climates and it usually strikes kids and young people, but just about anybody can develop it.

"Anyone can have it at any point in their life, but the nice thing is however, 50% of people who have it, it will go away in 5 years," Hong said.

Hong recommends people with a cold allergy take antihistamines to relieve symptoms and to always carry an epinephrine auto injector in case of emergency. She also advises people to bundle up completely and avoid the cold when possible.