People living in the tropics may long for the cold weather, and those living in the winter regions may find delight at the thought of playing in the snow; some may long for warmer temperatures as the environment becomes uncomfortably chilly. However, no one would long for summer as much as Pat Owers, a 76-year-old primary school teacher from Essex, UK.

After being vaccinated at five-years-old, Owers developed a rare and adverse reaction known as cold urticaria, which makes up one to three percent of all urticarias.

Her rare disease meant that she is allergic to the cold - a sudden decrease in temperature such as a cool breeze or swimming - as it resulted in a break out of hives, all over her body. Cold urticaria is triggered when antibodies in the blood are sensitive to frigid temperatures.

"Your body normally fights off bacteria and viruses and parasites, but in this instance, instead of attacking something useful, it latches onto allergy cells in the skin," said Dr. David Fischer, president of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Side effects: Social and developmental skills affected

In the past, there was little medical literature on this seemingly “weird” illness, which affected Owers' quality of life. She describes those years as, “strange times”, and said that adults usually told her to “get on with it”. She only discovered the cause of her allergy when she sought help from neuroscientists in her thirties. Her confidence, in particular, was greatly affected in her early years, making her socially withdrawn.

“My early years were horrendous,” she recounts. “The minute I got cold my skin was covered in itchy hives. It was like I had a bubble wrap body. My hands and feet would go completely dead, and it itched. It lasted for around 30 minutes until I got warm."

“I didn’t want to be seen. Children would say ‘ewww you’re infectious, I’m not coming near you.' So I always covered myself up,” she said. Trips to the beach also involved covering herself up in a coat with a blanket over her, while her siblings enjoyed the water.

“I thought I was horrible and ugly. I’ve always felt that I can’t be seen, and I’d die before going in a communal changing room,” she added.

In addition, her linguistic skills were underdeveloped, and she was socially inept. She confessed, “I barely spoke until I was about 20. I never said a word. I used to hide and try to merge into the background. It had a big impact on me.”

Improvements seen, but mental trauma remains

"I do warn the patients, when I've pointed out the diagnosis to them, that other people will 'find them crazy, said Dr. Fischer. "Allergies, on the whole, are often misunderstood."

Owers' symptoms only improved when she turned 25. The reactions were less severe, and the hives stopped. This marked a great improvement, but, she remains “very allergic” to the cold. Fischer added that usually, cold urticaria fades after five or six year, making Owers' case unusual.

Despite her improvements,”It’s a bit of a big mystery to me as I don’t know much about it at all," she contends. "It’s something I grew up with. I suppose I'm used to it now. I just get through."

But the mental trauma of her growing up years was never forgotten. "I get so frightened if I wake up and I have this huge dread. Everyone my age says 'I’m cold too' when I tell them - but they don’t have any idea how horrendous you feel when you’re sick with cold. You just get gripped with this terrible fear and a frantic urge to do anything to get warm. I have hot water bottles the whole year round." MIMS

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Sources:
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/what-its-like-to-be-allergic-to-the-cold-urticaria-a7432571.html
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cold-urticaria/basics/definition/con-20034524
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/saskatoon-woman-allergic-winter-1.3932422