Teen battles being allergic to the cold

January 31, 2013 8:36:28 PM PST
Many of us hate the cold, but can you imagine having a life-threatening reaction every time your body temperature drops?

That's reality for some people including a local teenager.

14-year-old Halle Kiel seems like any other teenager.

"I like to swim and I love playing lacrosse and I like going to the movies," Halle said.

And like many people she doesn't like the cold, but for her it goes a step further.

Halle is actually allergic it.

"No one believes me," Halle said.

It's true.

It started when she was 9.

She jumped into a cold swimming pool and quickly became covered in hives.

"Head to toe, every time you turned around they were popping out and I thought 'Oh my goodness,'" Halle's mother Julie DeSantis said.

They thought maybe it was chemicals in the pool, but then Halle saw allergist Dr. Mark Posner.

She was diagnosed with acquired cold urticaria.

"Urticaria just means hives, but it can be much more than just hives," Posner said.

He says in the worst case scenario, it can spark a life-threatening reaction.

Last year, after moving into a cold classroom, Halle says her hands started swell.

"My tongue started to swell and it was getting harder and harder to breathe and taking a deep breath was all I could do," Halle said.

She was rushed to the emergency room.

Dr. Posner says the condition is not all that rare.

Up to about 1% of the population is at risk.

It usually hits around adolescence and it's more common in girls.

To test for it, doctors use a simple technique.

They tape an ice cube to your inner arm and then wait.

If you develop hives within three to five minutes, chances are you are allergic to the cold.

"The good news is this is a condition that's usually very well treated," Posner said.

Halle takes antihistamines twice a day, carries an epinephrine pen in case of an emergency, and she bundles up in the winter - layer on top of layer when she has to go outside.

But she can only be out there for a very short time.

You may be thinking - so why not move to Florida?

But it's not that simple.

"Whether it's air conditioning at the supermarket, movie theaters," Julie said.

In fact, Dr. Posner says a reaction can happen any time her body temperature takes a sharp dip.

"Such as getting out of the shower or if the wind is blowing and you're sweating outside," Dr. Posner said.

Thankfully the medications help prevent problems.

Halle has learned to live with her allergy.

She's now only swimming indoors when the water temperature is above 80 degrees.

Still she's hoping she'll outgrow being allergic to the cold.

"Hopefully. That'd be nice," Halle said.

And that is possible.

Dr. Posner says many times people do outgrow the allergy after about four or five years.

If you think you or your child may have this, you should be checked by a doctor.

Sometimes this allergy comes with other medical problems such as an autoimmune illness.

LINK: Allergy & Asthma Specialists, P.C.