No matter how far north you live, there’s a good chance the next few months will be significantly less harsh on you than on Bernard Ward — a Derry, Northern Ireland retail worker whose skin explodes into hives whenever the temperature drops below a certain point.
Why? Because, for the past year, Ward has been living with a condition known as cold urticaria, which literally makes him allergic to everything winter has to offer. A cold doorknob makes his skin flare up. His face swells during chilly walks. A sudden flurry can send him into fatal anaphylactic shock.
“I dread winter coming — I know most people don’t like the cold but it could be deadly for me,” he said, speaking to the Daily Mail. “I have to wear ridiculous amounts of clothes in the winter and it's tough covering transport costs, clothing costs, and fuel bills.”
Ward’s symptoms, which generally align with those of other allergies, reportedly began during a cold night in Scotland last year. While waiting for a bus that never came, he noticed a burning sensation in his hands. The same feeling would later return during his morning commute. “Every time I was waiting for the bus my hands began to itch really badly and burn, as if I had put them in a pile of nettles,” he said. “I thought nothing of it and got on with things, and hoped it would go away.”
After a string of misdiagnoses, a perceptive physician finally connected Ward’s strange symptoms to the debilitating allergy. Usually, the condition is temporary, with symptoms subsiding after a couple of months. But for Ward, cold urticaria appears much more severe, as his complications have persisted for nearly a year. And although most reactions are thought to occur at temperatures below 40 degrees, Ward’s symptoms can flare up at the slightest fluctuation.
“I worked in a busy retail store, the air conditioning was on for about an hour and I just didn’t feel well and couldn’t work out why,” he told reporters. “I remember feeling like I was going to faint and I was having the most uncomfortable heart palpitations. I went out the back to sit down for a bit and noticed my hands were covered in hives.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, cold urticaria is characterized by hives, abnormal reddening, swelling, and itching after exposure to anything cold. Treatment typically involves anti-allergy medication such as antihistamines. It is not yet clear what causes the condition.