The cold always bothered him anyway.
A UK teen is so deathly allergic to cold that he can’t be outside for more than 15 minutes — even in warm weather — without his skin breaking out into itchy red rashes.
“He can’t be outside for long if it’s cold,” mom Tupney Courtney, 38, told Kennedy News & Media of her son Calum’s unfortunate affliction. “He goes out and has to keep coming back in.”
The 14-year-old from Basildon, Essex, suffers from cold urticaria, a rare skin reaction to even mild cold in which patients develop hives, swelling and even anaphylactic shock.
Calum erupts into hives when the mercury reads less than a balmy 75 degrees, or when his limbs aren’t covered by a blanket while he’s sleeping.
“He breaks out on whatever part of the body is cold,” explained the boy’s distraught mom of the reaction, which occurs after just 15 minutes outside — even if her child dons three layers of clothing.
The mother of two continued, “It starts off like little red dots. It looks like chickenpox. Then they get bigger and join together,” adding that it feels “pinchy” like “stinging nettles, then it gets really itchy.”
And the complications aren’t merely cosmetic: When Calum enters the water, the teen will reportedly get “bright red and says it feels like it’s burning,” or “like he’s going to pass out.” His mother believes these are the early stages of anaphylactic shock, which requires her to warm her son up immediately with hot drinks — a process that takes around 20 minutes to work.
In order to avert disaster, Calum’s parents have to crank the heat high all day and drive the boy 45 minutes to school (all the way up to the gate when it’s raining to prevent his clothes from getting damp). They also have to make sure he’s always wearing a tracksuit to protect his skin.
“You don’t know what reaction he could have. He could have anaphylactic shock. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility; even though he hasn’t, it could happen at any point,” Courtney lamented.
Calum exhibited signs of cold urticaria at 4 years old when he developed welts from “head to toe” while playing outside at his aunt’s wedding.
Initially thinking it was a pollen allergy, the toddler’s parents administered him antihistamines and brought him indoors — which seemed to improve his condition.
However, they quickly realized his affliction was something more sinister after his symptoms returned with a vengeance in winter. “He used to play football at school on a Friday. As it got colder, he’d be wearing a tracksuit and Under Armour and he would still be smothered in lumps all over him,” said Courtney. “It was happening all the time and we started to realize that if his arm was out of the quilt, that would come up in hives, but the rest of him wouldn’t, so we started to see it was the cold.”
Unfortunately, she didn’t get many answers from the doctor, who simply said her son was affected by the cold. He also reiterated the same preventative measures the parents were already taking: sequestering Calum indoors, keeping the heat running on full, etc.
“Doctors suggest a lifestyle change to avoid the cold. OK, we won’t live, we’ll stay indoors, not doing anything or going anywhere,” snarked Courtney.
Urticaria has put a damper on the Courtneys, who have to “think of everything” to keep their son safe.
“If he hurts himself, he can’t have a cold compress,” rued his mother. “He banged his hand at school and they said he needed to go to hospital because his hand had doubled in size. But when I got there, he had a cold compress on it, so as soon as I warmed it up, it went down.”
Not only that, but their poor boy had to quit soccer cold turkey because his whole face swells up if he’s outside for a prolonged period of time.
Courtney says even watching football is a problem. “He likes to watch his brother play football and we take him tracksuits, hot water bottles, blankets, but he has to go and get in the car because his nose swells up and his eyes get further apart,” she said.
While planning their upcoming trip to Turkey — the hottest country the family could find — they had to “book a hotel with an indoor, heated swimming pool” to prevent Calum from catching a killer chill.
“It affects so much. When kids want to go ice skating, when kids want to go swimming, anywhere, to the beach, he can’t go because it’s too risky,” griped his beleaguered mom. “We went to swim with dolphins in Florida and he couldn’t stay in the water.”
Not to mention that due to CU’s obscurity, “it’s a constant battle of trying to prove it to people,” said Courtney.
“People’s first reaction is, ‘Oh yes, I’m allergic to the cold too,’” she said. “They think he’s saying he doesn’t like the cold. It’s so frustrating that no one believes him.”
Finding proper CU specialists, or even effective “cold medicine,” has also proven an uphill battle.
“I want to find a doctor that specializes in CU, which I can’t seem to find,” said Courtney. “We find allergy doctors and dermatologists, but no one specializing in that specific allergy.”
Currently, while there is no cure-all treatment for the condition, doctors say people can mitigate the symptoms with over-the-counter antihistamines including loratadine (Claritin) and cetirizine (Zyrtec), per the Mayo Clinic.
Courtney ultimately hopes to get her son healed enough to where he can play outside “without looking like he’s got a disease.”