Pat Owers has been allergic to the cold since she was 5-years-old
Pat Owers has been allergic to the cold since she was 5-years-old

What it's like to be allergic to the cold

'I thought I was horrible and ugly. I always felt that I can’t be seen'

Kashmira Gander
Wednesday 23 November 2016 10:12
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As the nights draw in and the weather becomes uncomfortably chilly, most of us will indulge in grumbling about the weather and long for the warmer months. But a rare disease means the cold can be terrifying for Pat Owers.

The 76-year-old retired primary school teacher from Essex is allergic to the cold. The condition is known as cold urticaria, which makes up between one to three per cent of all cases of urticaria.

Owers developed cold urticaria after she had an extreme and rare adverse reaction to a vaccine she was given when she was five-years-old. Since then, any contact she had with the cold would cause her to come out in hives across her body.

“My early years were horrendous,” she recalls. “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 t itched. It lasted for around 30 minutes until I got warm."

Looking back on those years, Owes says she wishes she had known more about her condition. But during those “strange times”, she says, adults told her to get on with it, and so the cause of her allergy remained a mystery until she visited a neuroscientist in her thirties.

Her lack of understanding of what was happening to her body seriously affected Owers' confidence.

"At school it made me retire from social situations. 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."

And when her mother would take her family to the beach in the summer, Owers was forced to stay wrapped 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.

“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.”

By the time she turned 25, her reaction to the cold became less severe and the hives stopped, but she says she is still “very allergic” to the cold.

"When my feet get cold I feel like I’m walking on wooden stumps."

"I get so frightened if I wake up and I have this huge dread. Everyone my age every 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."

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

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