betrayed by the skin I’m in

When I was 11, I became allergic to something that gave me hives. I'd get them when I was walking to school in the winter, sometimes when I was playing outside, at my grandparents' house in the mountains, at the beach. And really, what pubescent girl doesn't want to be covered with huge, puffy red blotches when she's wearing a bathing suit?

My hives were undiagnosable for about a year. We changed all kinds of things–the sunscreen, a new winter coat, basically anything that touched my skin was replaced by a new thing, made of something different than the first thing. My mom had to take pictures of the hives, because my allergist couldn't diagnose them without seeing them, and they never appeared at his office. Again, very exciting, to have someone taking your picture while you're covered with red blotches. I'm definitely handing those photos down to the grandkids.

For those of you who have not been to an allergist (and how I envy you!) there's a bizarre skin test that they do to see what you're allergic to. It basically involves drawing a big grid on your back, and then pricking you with various different allergens to see what causes a reaction–each allergen has its own little square. I had two different skin tests, and was diagnosed with a bunch of mild allergies to things like cat dander, a variety of grasses and trees, oranges, etc., but nothing ever caused the kinds of hives that I was getting.

On my third skin test, after all the allergens had been applied, my allergist had a 'eureka' moment, and said, "I'll be right back." He came back in the room and dropped an ice cube on my back, and voila! I was diagnosed with cold urticaria (I'm happy to say that my back never looked quite as bad as that photo). Yes, it's true, I'm allergic to cold. Well, really, negative temperature change. All of the times that I had developed hives were times when I went from being warm to being cold quickly–leaving my warm house to walk to school on a snowy day, swimming in cold water on a hot day–you get the picture.

I immediately made a pitch for my parents to move to Hawaii, but that was shot down by my mom.

I'm bringing this up, because I've been developing some new kinds of hives lately. I'm sort of thinking it might be stress, but the reality is that I just really don't want to go to the allergist again. I'm afraid of what he might spill on me now.


April 11, 2006. random other things.


  1. Orikinla Osinachi replied:

    There must be a solution somewhere.

    I don’t want your skin to become as bad as the alien skin of Michael Jackson.

    God bless.

  2. Lori L replied:

    I think allergy testing is easier these days than it used to be. My nephew had to be tested for allergies, and I think they just took a blood test. I am not sure if this is true when a person is getting hives vs. upper respiratory-type allergies, but I would check into it if I were you. It might not be as bad as you think.

  3. Jennifer replied:

    My husband is allergic to being pricked. When he’s pricked or scratched, it develops into a huge red welt. So the first time he went to the allergist his doc completely freaked out to see my husband allergic to the control — water!

    Anyway I know how awful the allergist can be, hope it turns out to be nothing.

  4. W. J. St. Christopher replied:

    Yep, my allergist now uses a blood test, too. And I’ve been tested regularly for decades so that was GOOD news!

    Best of luck!

  5. Jennxx replied:

    I talked with a nurse once and she said that when kids come into the hospital with a rash, the first thing they check is what detergent they are using to wash their clothes in. Apparently Tide is suppose to be one of the worst. I once saw a demo where they put a 1/2 cup a tide and water in a jar, and the Tide NEVER dissolved completely. Half of it was still there. That would be the stuff that stays on your clothes. I’m sure Tide is not the only one out there like that.
    Check your soaps, house cleaners and other chemical stuff around the house.
    As for your cold allergy…that’s plain neat. That would give a great excuse to move to Hawaii!

  6. elise replied:

    How…unusual (my first thought was weird, but didn’t want to sound insulting – LOL). My husband once broke out in hives from a medication and I took a picture but I couldn’t bring myself to touch him. I think I was very (in)sensitive to his dilemma and did something like run away from him yelling eeewwww!!!

  7. Sandra replied:

    I can’t believe it took your allergist a year to diagnose cold urticaria. I get it too, especially from swimming or from breaking a sweat out in the cold–snow shovelling, I’m allergic to snow shovelling, lucky me!

    Sorry to hear you’re getting hives lately. They can be so uncomfortable and worrisome. From time to time I get unexplained hives that I can never link to anything. Some people get hives in conjunction with viruses, so if you can’t link it to food or something environmental, that’s something else you might consider. I hope you can figure it out.

  8. Jessica replied:

    I’ve never had hives but I thought I had one yesterday….

    Immediately after stepping out of the shower, I noticed a splotchy rash on my left cheek (about the size of a quarter) – it was raised, pink and mildly itchy.

    This is day two and it’s still there. I’ve taken four Benedryl and starting putting some antifungal cream on it in case it is (gulp) ringworm or something (although the pattern and color is consistent). I read that if it were a localized hive, it would disappear within 4 – 5 hours. Sigh.

  9. Jessica replied:

    I’ve never had hives but I thought I had one yesterday….

    Immediately after stepping out of the shower, I noticed a splotchy rash on my left cheek (about the size of a quarter) – it was raised, pink and mildly itchy.

    Note – nothing has changed in my diet or habits (such as soap, make up, etc). The ONLY change lately is that I’ve stopped taking my birth control pills so it could be hormonal?

    This is day two and it’s still there. I’ve taken four Benedryl and starting putting some antifungal cream on it in case it is (gulp) ringworm or something (although the pattern and color is consistent). I read that if it were a localized hive, it would disappear within 4 – 5 hours. Sigh.

  10. Leggy replied:

    Oh God, you and me both babe. I just got back from Florida and we spent time at my aunt’s house. Between the pollen and the dog, I was in hell. Zyrtec & benadryl got me through, but I was pretty miserable. In the last year or so, I’ve become allergic to everything and the hives & itchiness are awful- very anxiety producing.

    Is this what happens to one’s body in the mid-30’s? It just starts breaking down? Ugh!

  11. Kristine replied:

    I have the identical problem. Mine, too, started at puberty. It was very manageable throughout my 20s and 30s. But in my mid 40s, it has become as severe as it was at puberty. I have a feeling, changes in hormones have something to do with the severity.

    My dermatologist recommended keeping my skin moist. He recommends Eucerin lotion so that the skin is not so sensitive. It is not a panacea, but it helps.

  12. rob replied:

    I live in San Diego and am 30 years old. Last year I had my first case of cold urticaria while surfing on a cold morning. I’ve been surfing my whole life, I’ve never had any type of condition like this and then blammo!, I looked like the Michelin Man. So now it happens every other time I go surfing, it’s like flipping a coin. The first time it happened was the worst. It’s truly a terrible fate, the fact that I may have to give up surfing in order to avoid this happening.

    Tonite I’m on the internet doing research on it, trying to see who else is afflicted with this miserable allergy.

    Best of luck, take care of yourself.

  13. Michael replied:

    I am 17 and just got hives out of the blue last May. I’m having another bad flare up that is now going to be a week in tomorrow. I’ve been to the allergist and am NOT allergic to anything. The doctor will not do a food test because he said the results wont be true.

    Im really wondering what it is. Im afraid to eat beecause I don’t know if it is the food coloring, the seafood, or even the cakes I bake.

    After reading these blogs I see that there is cold urticaria. I am wondering if there is hot uticaria? The weather recently has been warm (for at least a week) Maybe that is the issue.

    Any help is appreciated.

  14. Ren replied:

    Gosh, I just typed in “unexplained hives” and may have the found the answer

    My almost 4 year old has been getting hives everyday for the past week. I can’t figure out food……I though it might be detergent (Tide) and washed ALL his clothes over with a no perfume no dye version of Tide (We have HE machine and can’t find any other HE detergent in store).

    He’s still breaking out. SHould I rewash again? OR find anothe product all together I wonder!

  15. Jennifer McKee replied:

    I was looking up Tide HE side effects and came across this. Another HE brand that AI know of is Kirkland. Its a costco brand. Just to let you all know. I havent used it yet.

  16. jake replied:

    I began using Tide HE when we got an HE machine about 4 weeks ago. Almost 3 weeks in I had hives everywhere clothes touched. I switched to All Free and Clear and it seemed OK for a couple of day ad now hives everywhere. I need a solution too. Anyone out there trying Arm and Hamer HE (they do not seem to make a sensitive skin one). Regular tide from our old machine never gave me trouble.

  17. Susan replied:

    Try Dreft. You may smell like a baby but the allergist recommended this for my allergy-prone child. He just started allergy shots at 8 and today had his first cold urticaria experience. Scared the pants off me but benadryl really relieved the weals and his finger swelling went down over the course of a few hours. Then, without thinking, promised him ice cream as a treat tonight and his fingers started to swell from holding the cold cup of ice cream…this should be interesting.

  18. Ray replied:

    I have Cold Urticaria and Dermographism. They diagnosed me about 20 years ago when I was about 6. I would get hives around my belt line and my hands would swell when I was playing little league baseball in Truckee,CA a darn cold place. I also have dermographism or “Skin Writing” It has been pretty fun actually for me. It doesn’t hurt. My girlfriends always loved to write messages on me.. HAHA Fun at party’s cause its rare. Anyways Zyrtec works great on both for me!

  19. ray nwam replied:

    Excellent article and site .your piece is a great resource to the online audience. Please when you have time check out my site with many articles like seasonal allergies

  20. BBSP at five years « Bumblebee Sweet Potato replied:

    […] #1–Betrayed by the Skin I’m In. Wow, there are a lot of people out there in the world who have random itchiness. Also? A severe allergy to Tide seems to crop up now and again. Ironically, the “medical mystery” story in last week’s Times magazine was about a guy with severe cold allergy, so they’ll probably be stealing all my hits. […]

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