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Grant Schlager, Minnesota boy, is allergic to cold weather

Grant Schlager, left, is allergic to cold. His brother is not.
Grant Schlager, left, is allergic to cold. His brother is not.
Alison Stumpf Photography

It's official -- people these days have allergies to everything.

The latest example is little 11-year-old Grant Schlager of Austin, Minnesota. When Grant exposes his body to cold temperatures, he breaks out in hives. Swimming in cold water is basically a no-go. Even the simple pleasure of an icy soda is fraught with danger.

His mother, understandably, wasn't sure what to make of Grant's symptoms, and eventually brought him to the Mayo Clinic. There, he was diagnosed with cold urticaria -- the perfect allergy for those looking for a rock-solid reason to flee Minnesota winters.

Here's what the Mayo Clinic staff has to say about cold urticaria:

For doctors at the Mayo, there's nothing mysterious or funny about being allergic to the cold.
For doctors at the Mayo, there's nothing mysterious or funny about being allergic to the cold.
Cold urticaria (ur-tih-KAR-e-uh) is an allergy to cold temperatures. With cold urticaria, exposure to cold temperatures causes redness, itching, swelling and hives on the skin that has been in contact with the cold. As much as possible, people with cold urticaria should avoid exposure to cold air and cold water. For example, swimming in cold water is the most common cause of a severe, whole-body reaction -- leading to fainting, shock and even death.

Cold urticaria can be serious business. For instance, Martha Hartz, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at Mayo, told the USA Today that she knows of a toddler with cold urticaria who jumped in a cold wading pool on a warm day. The toddler suffered anaphylaxis -- a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction -- and now has permanent brain damage.

Grant doesn't have it quite so bad. When he goes outside to play in the cold, his parents check him after about 15 minutes for hives. If he's breaking out or feeling itchy, he has to go inside and warm up. He takes a twice-daily antihistamine and stays close to an EpiPen.

According to a recent MSNBC report, researchers at the National Institutes of Health have identified a genetic mutation that causes not only cold urticaria, but also other symptoms including immune deficiency and autoimmunity and inflammatory skin disorders.

In other words, some people just don't have the genetic makeup to endure Minnesota winters. Perhaps you should consider yourself lucky.

If you think you might be afflicted with cold urticaria, there's a test -- simply put an ice cube on your skin, wait a few minutes for it to start melting, and then remove it. If you break out in hives, you might have cold urticaria, though doctors warm that some sufferers have strong reactions to cold on particular parts of the body but not others.

Makes you wonder how our pre-modern-medicine ancestors ever managed to live to ripe old ages, doesn't it?


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