Whenever I talk about my allergy, I’m met with disbelieving stares.
Then, I get one of three responses:
“But it’s not actually the cold you're allergic to, right?”
“You know, my skin also sometimes gets red when it’s cold.”
“So, why do you live in the north?”
The last question I don’t really have an answer to. For the first two, I can tell you that, yes, I’m definitely allergic, and, yes, it’s a legitimate allergy.
To be more specific, I’m allergic to drops in temperature. That means that if I were to jump into an icy bath, my body would begin releasing histamines, a chemical that causes allergic reactions. Too many histamines, and your body can go into anaphylactic shock.
It started some time in high school. Throughout my early life, I never had any allergies. Sure, I’d occasionally get stuffy during pollen season, but I wasn’t the kid who had to sit at a specialized table during lunch in elementary school due to a peanut allergy. No medication allergies. Nothing. It was almost a source of pride for my preteen self.
Once I entered high school, I got really into jogging. I tore my ACL, and the physical therapy afterwards included going on runs around my neighborhood. The habit stuck, and it became a routine for me. I adamantly refused to use a treadmill, even when the temperatures dropped and the harsh Connecticut winters took over.
It was during one of these winters that I began to notice odd–looking red bumps all over my body every time I’d come in from a run. They weren’t exactly itchy—they’d just burn a little when they appeared and wouldn’t bother me again. Once I went indoors, they’d go away pretty quickly, so I didn’t think much about them.
I assumed that whatever it was would go away soon enough. After all, I’d never had problems going on runs before. But throughout that entire winter, the hives didn’t go away. I continued to have issues every time I left the house. It even got to the point where, occasionally, I’d come inside and feel a bit light—headed.
My mom got concerned and told me to take photos and see what our doctor thought. My pediatrician didn’t have an answer either. I shrugged it off. It still wasn’t really an issue for me. I didn’t feel like my life was drastically affected by it, even though I was curious about what was wrong. Throughout high school, it was an ongoing mystery. I avoided scouring the internet because of the fear—mongering answers WebMD provided.
Things went wrong pretty suddenly.
I was on a summer vacation with a group of my friends at the beaches in Montauk, N.Y. It was summer, so I wasn’t thinking about my hives. We spent the morning swimming in the ocean. The water was colder than usual as it was merely June, but none of us minded.
About five minutes in, my hives came on. I got out, popped both Zyrtec and Benadryl, and, assuming I would be perfectly fine as I’d been every other time, I ran back in.
That decision was probably the worst decision of my life. I ended up heading to the hospital after going into anaphylactic shock on the beach. I terrified most of my family, who was still at home in Connecticut, as well as the friends who’d been with me. The best (and uncertain) answer the doctor could give me was that I was “allergic to water.” Eventually, I visited my allergist at home. While anaphylaxis wasn’t a fun experience, it did finally give me the answer I’d been searching for: I was allergic to the cold.
Since then, I haven’t had any severe allergic reactions. Occasionally, hives will appear, and I’ll ignore them. I don’t let it stop me from playing outside during snowstorms or walking around campus late at night. While it doesn’t majorly affect my life, there are still some things I can’t do. For example, I couldn’t use this one waterslide on my Quebec vacation because the water was too cold, and going down it would have been too abrupt a temperature change. I have to be extra careful every time I go into an ocean or a lake.
Still, it’s sometimes frustrating when I’m not taken seriously. It’s easy to assume somebody is making something up when it comes to odd allergies. If something sounds too unrealistic, most people will assume it’s fake. Even the hospital workers had doubted me when I’d come in covered in hives. I’ve become used to the endless questions and skepticism thrown my way when I bring it up as my fun fact during icebreakers.
I understand why though. I try to be empathetic when I get incredulous looks for my allergy because I know how wild it can sound. While there are many downsides, my allergy has, at the very least, become a great conversation starter.