If your child's skin starts breaking out in hives every winter when the temperature dips, he could be allergic to the cold.

People with cold urticaria — most common in young adults — develop itchy, red welts in response to cold weather or swimming in cold water, according to the Mayo Clinic. Usually a reaction is triggered at around 39 degrees F or lower.

Kids often outgrow cold urticaria. "Remission, or at least improvement of symptoms, occurs in 50 percent of patients within five to six years," writes Marcus Maurer, MD, professor of dermatology and allergy at Charite Universitätsmedizin Berlin, in UptoDate, a resource for physicians.

Experts aren't sure why some people develop cold urticaria. It may be hereditary. It can also be caused by an underlying infection, says the Mayo Clinic. One case study suggested a possible connection with celiac disease.

Related: Winter Skin Irritations: What’s That Itch?

Symptoms of cold urticaria

cold urticaria hives

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms include:

  • Temporary reddish, itchy hives where skin was exposed to cold
  • A worsening of the reaction as the skin warms
  • Swelling of hands or feet after touching cold objects
  • Swelling of lips and throat when consuming cold food or drink

If the reaction is severe, cold urticaria can cause throat swelling and difficulty breathing. problems. The Mayo Clinic advises seeking immediate care if you experience swelling, trouble breathing or you feel dizzy. (Photo: kanphoto/Shutterstock)

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), cold urticaria can also be life-threatening "if there is a general body cooling — for example, after a plunge into a swimming pool."

Cold urticaria can be diagnosed by placing an ice cube on the skin for 5 minutes. Hives will develop within a few minutes if the person has the condition.

Related: Winter Skin Guide: 7 Steps to Healthy, Itch-Free Skin


There's no cure for cold urticaria, except waiting for the child to hopefully outgrow it. Antihistamines, including over-the-counter options, are the treatment of choice according to AAD.

These steps can help someone avoid a reaction according to the Mayo Clinic and the ACAAI:

  • Avoid any sudden changes in temperatures
  • Protect as much of your skin as you can from the cold
  • Take an antihistamine before heading outside
  • Don't swim in cold water as it can be life-threatening and cause your body to swell up rapidly
  • Don't drink ice-cold drinks and food as they may cause swelling of the throat
  • Always carry your EPI pen with you

Related: What to Put in Your Home First Aid Kit

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Muriel Vega is a writer with a passion for budget travel and staying safe while abroad. A Georgia State University graduate, she has over 6 years of editorial experience and has written for The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Billfold, among other outlets. In her free time, you can find her baking pies, playing with her two dogs and cat, or planning her next vacation. She spends way too much time on Twitter, one of her favorite social media channels. Her favorite safety tip: Make sure you have all the necessary shots before you go abroad.