A Clinical Allergy to the Cold: Preparing for Winter

Growing up, I never imagined I would be at this point in my life, mostly because I was always what my mom called, “a snow baby”. I would eagerly run outside and jump in the fluffy white stuff that covered the Midwest hills, making snow angels, sledding down our steep hills, and rolling crumbly snowmen until dark.

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During my high school career, my weight dramatically fluctuated as I changed my nutrition and exercise plan. I lost 30-40 pounds, but felt healthier and better than ever. However, as I began experiencing things like an increase in anxiety and depression, my relationship with food wasn’t consistent. During a trip to Colorado in the late summer, I realized that something really didn’t feel right. Normally, I attributed feeling cold or a lack of energy to my daily caloric intake, which was being assisted with a nutritionist. But on this particular trip, I felt chilled to the bone, so much that I was unable to move parts of my body or be outside for an extended period of time.

The trip abruptly ended as the family took a mountain Jeep tour – which basically shut down my internal functions and almost killed me. Not exactly an exaggeration either, and it’s scary/sad to look back now at all the signs I ignored because I didn’t think that being “allergic” to the cold was a real disease.

On that Jeep tour (a ride through elevation, snowy air, and temperatures of 30 degrees or less in a vehicle with no doors or windows), I slowly loss feeling in my hands and feet, my legs and arms, and lastly my neck and torso. My skin went from feeling tingly and painful to feeling like nothing at all. Keeping my eyes open became too much of a chore, and they slowly sealed shut as I slumped against my mom, shaking and praying that whatever was happening to my body would be over soon. It was after this emergency freak accident that we understood that I was more than just a little sensitive to the cold, and if I didn’t take preventative measures I would end up hurting my body to the point of no return.

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After returning home from vacation three days early because of the terrifying incident and the weather, I began noticing bumps and ripped skin along my fingers and cuticles. As the fall season approached the Midwest temperatures got chilly and I began to notice the pattern: the colder it was outside, the more my fingers ached. The bumps turned to open sores as my skin reacted to the cold air, and even transformed into bloody and swollen patches at one point. This abnormality upset me, terrified my mom, and shocked anyone who looked at my hands. As a writer, and just a living breathing person in general, you’d be surprised at how much you actually do need your hands for, and this disease was taking over my daily life.

It was time to get help, and my regular doctor was as confused and terrified as we were- he had never seen whatever was on my hands, and didn’t understand how my body reacted to the cold like it did. And why me? I have severe food allergies, intolerances and asthma, but what was this? What had happened to the inside of my body and the way it reacted to the environment around me?

The next doctor visit was to the dermatologist, who was more amazed than confused. The doctor had only seen one other case in her time of practice, and my disease had a name: an extreme combination of Raynaud’s and Cold Urticaria. After calling about ten other practitioners and nurses into the room with “You have to see this!”, she took pictures of my aching fingers and skin with the professional dermatology camera, (which I can only imagine what had been used to photograph).

Now that I was diagnosed, I could receive medical help for this rare allergy I had developed, and I was sent to a rheumatologist who was thankfully familiar with my situation. He prescribed low-blood pressure medicine, to regulate the blood flow in my body, but even with medication I still feel an aching in my fingers as I write this.

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Two years later, and we are approaching winter once again. As someone with a clinical-allergy to being cold, I feel fear, inconvenience, and extreme uncomfortability in this season. I am scared of the 10 + minutes it takes to get to and from classes. I am inconvenienced by the constant heat that streams through my apartment, and every coat, jacket, and insulated mittens I’ve had to buy to treat the symptoms. I am uncomfortable in my home, in my car, and often in my shivering body.

If you’ve skimmed this rather long post, I’ll summarize it for you: Being cold brings me physical pain. Going into this winter, I continue to brew extra hot coffee, start my car at least 10 minutes before driving, and pray for my future home in Arizona. Until then, I’ll be shivering for the next five months.

Staying warm (ish),

Madeleine

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